Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Dream Come True - Sastra Pratibha visit to Chennai

Day 1 - Departure
We had taken off from The Dubai International Airport, after saying byes to our families. It was sure to be a fun time throughout the tour. After travelling by Air India, we arrived at The Chennai International Airport. We got into our Force Travellers and set off to our hostel, which was the Green Pearl International Hostel. Our accommodation was provided by SRM University there. We arrived there, and got into our rooms and freshened up to have breakfast.
From there it was to SRM University, where we had a short presentation about SRM and its glorious years as a top university, and all the facilities it offered to the students. There was a short session in which we were asked to express our views of the SRM University. Thoughts came sprouting from our heads, and even the younger Pratibhas expressed many great comments on the university. Then the officials also expressed their views, but in an adult like manner and asked some questions in favour of the parents. We had a short campus tour of the facilities. We saw their Gigantic Auditorium, which was the first one of its kind in South Asia, the different labs for research including Bio-Technology, and their administrative offices.
Then we headed back to our hostel rooms, as we needed to get a long day’s rest to go to SDSC SHAR the next day.

We woke up early, at around 4:30 in the morning to leave for SDSC SHAR. SDSC SHAR stands for Satish Dhawan Space Centre – Sriharikota Range. We weren’t allowed to bring any phones or cameras, as the place had high security levels. We had to wear dark clothes, as Sriharikota was a forest area. The problem with this is that there are a lot of honeybees, so wearing bright coloured clothes might not have been appreciated by the bees. 
The ISRO staff invited us to see a video containing information about ISRO’s glorious past, and info about PSLV, GSLV and how rockets were assembled, tested and launched. A rocket contains 3 propellant stages and 2 extra:-
Solid Stage – The 1st stage of the rocket with solid propellant
Liquid Stage – The 2nd stage of the rocket with liquid propellant
Cryogenics Stage – The 3rd stage of the rocket with cryogenic propellant
Electronic Bay – The bay on top of the cryogenic stage with all computers and electronic equipment.
Flare Cone with Satellite – The top of the rocket which is in a cone shape, housing the satellite (payload).
We had a session with a senior G level scientist at ISRO. G is one of the top ranks in the scientist ranks. The session was very informative and we could learn so much about ISRO and Rockets from him. We could learn that:-
There were two launch pads at ISRO
They had a triangle system of satellite development:-
First, the Design for the satellite is created by the Design team and is sent to the Academics team.
The Academics team analyses the design and gives corrections to make the satellite perfect. Then they transfer it to the Industry team.
The Industry team makes the rocket and satellite based on the final design given by the Academics team.
After everything is ready, they prepare it for launch on a PSLV or GSLV depending on the requirements of the satellite (weight and orbit).
The satellite is launched and is constantly tracked.

Under certain unfortunate circumstances, the rocket may not launch properly, and may crash into the island. To prevent that, they destroy the rocket in mid-air to prevent damage to the island of Sriharikota and its wildlife.
The staff at SDSC SHAR need to take high risks for making the nation proud. One of the most hazardous incidents that can be faced by them is hydrogen fire. If any hydrogen fuel leaks out during launch time, it may cause a fire. As hydrogen is odourless and colourless, the staff may already be trapped before they find the hazard.
Field Visits

We got the opportunity to see many of SDSC SHAR’s facilities right before our eyes. They are as follows:-
1. Mission Control Centre (MCC)
This is from where the launch is initiated, monitored, rockets are monitored and many other aspects of a launch are done. In short words, this is where the entire mission is controlled. This is where all the excitement takes place. This one was the newly developed one, with a large area, grand places for the Prime Minister and other cabinet members to sit and many new facilities. There were many rows and columns of computers, which were divided into many sections, including:-
Telemetric – Where all communications are handled
Tracking – Where the rocket are tracked after launched
Mission Control – Where the Chairman sits and initiates the launch sequence with a special key. Once he turns the key, the main computer initiates launch sequence automatically.
All this was explained to us by a lady who is sitting in the Telemetric row of computers. She was very experienced and explained everything to us clearly.

2. Rocket Booster Testing Facility
After the rocket boosters are assembled in the factory, they are transported to the testing facility. It is a huge building with a large opening at one end. How are the rockets tested? Well, the booster is laid down horizontally onto a carriage and transported to the testing area. It is attached to a giant square section, which is supported at the back by a huge energy absorption wall. The giant square section is the place to which the booster is attached. There is a moving pipe, which measures the pressure applied by the booster when it is test fired. One more giant square section is placed at the back of the absorption wall, which is calibrated and gives accurate reading of the pressure applied by the booster. The diagram below will make it clearer. All this was explained to us by a staff there with charts.

3. Rocket Launch Pads – 1 and 2
In a launch pad, there are the following components – 1. The Rocket, 2. The Umbilical Tower, 3. Rocket Assembly Area, 4. Lightning Tower and 5. Thrust Distributor. The main difference between both the launch pads is that in one, the rocket is stationary and the assembly tower moves, and in the other one the assembly tower is stationary and rocket moves by rail. There is another called umbilical tower, which is used to connect fuel lines and cables to the rocket after assembly till launch. If lightning hits a rocket, it will surely collapse. So, there are 4 lightning towers which capture lightning and spread it to the ground, in the case of thunderstorms. There is also a thrust distributor. As you know, if all the pressure of the rocket is applied on the same place at once, the rocket can collapse and the ground will get damaged. So, there are thrust distributor which dispenses the thrust provided by the rocket evenly to the ground.

4. Telemetric and Tracking Station
We had gone to the tracking station of satellites where satellites are tracked after it is launched. A staff member explained to us that it will take at least 14 minutes for a command to reach Mangalyaan from Earth. For that we need 32m antenna which is found in Bangalore. They have only 11m antenna. We learnt that to track a satellite, a number of nations contribute together. This is because as the Earth is curved, the satellite cannot be tracked with one radar. So the signal is shifted from station to station and is conveyed in real time to ISRO.
That was the end of our wonderful SDSC SHAR experience. We went back to the hostel, after eating dinner from a restaurant. We slept for a long time as we were very tired.
Day 3 – Birla Planetarium & Crocodile and Snake Reserve
We were all set and ready to go to Kalpakkam Nuclear Power Plant, but we got very bad news. We got a letter from plant officials saying that “children under 18 years are not allowed to go as the radiation may affect them.” This was a real disappointment for us as we expected to see all kinds of things like nuclear reactors and much more. But the SIF officials cheered us up by saying that we are going to the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and the Birla Planetarium. We all cheered up and got ready to go.
We got in our bus. This time it was a single large bus of SRM so the boys and girls were together. We had great fun by telling ghost stories and more. 
We went to the Birla Planetarium first, and it was a miracle. Till then I had thought a planetarium was some kind of space exhibition but it was totally out of my imagination. There was a huge telescope either holes like thing, and I didn’t understand what it was. But later I understood that is was the projector. We were asked to sit in slanting chairs, which were in almost sleep position. The show stared, and the dome was filled with stars and information, projected by the giant projector. The session showed information about all the planets, nebulas, galaxies, the pole star, and how astronomers kept track of stars, all seen as if we were flying through space. The show ended, and we went out of the planetarium. Then we went to the Periyar Science and Technology Centre, where we were shown working models of all categories, like vehicle transmission, gear box, ships, aeroplanes, etc. There was a dedicated section for ISRO, where we saw small scale models of various rockets and satellites, like Mangalyaan, Chandrayaan-1, and PSLV. There was also a mirror section, which showcased the optical illusions and models showing properties of mirrors. We saw funny mirrors, which could transform you from Handsome to ugly by standing in front of it. So, that was it for the planetarium and Periyar Science and Technology Centre.

We reached the place and there were full of boards, indicating that crocodiles are dangerous and we should not put our hand in the cage, and informative ones, which gave us a message to not hurt the crocs.

A guide at the crocodile bank guided us throughout our tour and gave us information of each and every species of crocodile there. Here is a table of all the crocodiles which are present there:
Crocodile Species Number of Crocodiles
Mugger 2115
Saltwater Crocodile   12
Gharial 55
Common Caiman 56
Yacare Caiman 3
Dwarf Caiman 13
American Alligator 2
Siamese Crocodile 9
Nile Crocodile 7
African Slender-Snouted Crocodile 6
West-African Dwarf Crocodile 3
Morelett’s Crocodile 13
False Garial 2
Australian Fresh-Water Crocodile 1
Total  2302

Out of these there were some that felt interesting to me.  One of the biggest attractions of the park is a fierce salt-water crocodile known as Jaws III. This species, believed to be the biggest in southern Asia, is 17 feet (5.2 m) long and weighs over a ton. The False Garial (Tomistoma schlegelii) is a crocodile that resembles an original Garial (Gavialis gangeticus), but is not a garial since it’s found in Malaysia. That’s why it is called False Garial. 

Then we saw some species of snakes as well, and they were terrifying. And of course, the ever slow tortoise, including one of the giants, which could live up to 150 years. That was pretty much the end of our Wild Reptile Trip, and we got in our buses and got back.

Day 4 – More of SRM and Departure
We got ready for our final breakfast at the Green Pearl, and sat on our bus to go to the Nanotechnology Research Centre at SRM University, run by the Government.
 The nanotechnology lab was full of equipment, and we couldn’t understand a thing. Mrs. Deepa, who was a researcher working there showed us around the area, explaining each room one by one. Their primary aim was to do research about nanotechnology and develop “nano” sized objects which could be used for specific purposes. She showed us a powder. Even though it looked like the grains didn’t have any shape, under a microscope, it is rectangles, triangles, circles and more. There were many devices to heat a substance, split it using a beam of electron, form the shape and check for smoothness, magnifying it etc. This was the excitement at the nanotechnology lab.
Then we went to the SRM/STRATUS Centre for Medical Simulation. Most of the students studying for medicine don’t have any experience when it comes to real life incidents. Most of them depend entirely upon book-based theory, and this is bad, as they are the ones who save lives. If a life saver does not have experience, then how would he become an expert doctor? Of course, we cannot do operations and medical procedures on real patients, so SRM has spent precious money to buy mannequins with real heart beat and vital signs. This is an important part in the course of a Medical Student, and is recommended by the Government of India. Even police officers are trained to do CPR’s and simple medical procedures which can be lifesaving. 
We went and saw how the student’s practices, as each of their action were monitored and streamed by live CCTV cameras. We went and tried inserting a berating tube into a mannequin’s throat and it worked. So now, we knew how to do a lifesaving procedure. We also saw simulated operation theatres. The mannequins are really amazing. They have heart beat, vital signs, and can talk to the students and express feelings. Some of the advanced models can even be operated on and there is blood too, which is going to be implemented soon at the Medical Simulation Centre. Behind every simulation room there is a control room, from which the teacher can change the heart rate, condition of the mannequin. So any real life situation can be simulated here. 

We left the place, and went for one final time to our Hostel. It was a little sad to leave, as we had great fun in the tour. We packed our bags and left in our travellers.
Then we had a quick one hour shopping session, and the girls went their own way. We were in a confusion at what to buy, and at last we brought some small shells and waited for the girls. The girls came back with 2 or 3 covers full of items, and this was expected. We reached at The Chennai International, and I was kind of feeling good to go home as everyone felt a little homesick. We boarded the plane, which was Air India again. 
We arrived back at the Pearl of The Gulf, Dubai. I was waiting for my baggage, but it came after a very long time. I saw my brother and family at the exit, full of excitement to hear from me what all was my experience. We Sastra Pratibhas joined for a group photo one last time, and I bid byes to all my friends. And the was the end of the 5 Day Jorney.

The End