ISRO again skips ‘unlucky’ 13 while numbering its rocket

Chennai: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has done it again. It has skipped the number ’13’ — generally considered “unlucky” — while numbering its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) rocket, which is set to fly on Saturday evening with the weather satellite INSAT-3DS.

The last flight of the GSLV rocket was on May 29, 2023, and the rocket was codenamed ‘GSLV-F12’.

Logically, the next GSLV rocket should have been numbered as ‘GSLV-F13’.

But it was not to be.

The GSLV rocket set to fly on Saturday evening carrying the 2,274 kg INSAT-3DS has been codenamed ‘GSLV-F14’.

Curiously, the same numbering scheme was followed by the ISRO in the case of its other rocket called Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

After sending up the rocket PSLV-C12, ISRO jumped one number for its next PSLV rocket and codenamed it ‘PSLV-C14’ which put into orbit Oceansat-2 and six European nanosatellites.

Officials of ISRO are still unable to explain the absence of the rocket named Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C13 (PSLV-C13) from their launch roster.

“There is no such rocket designated with that number,” a high-ranking official had told IANS while declining to comment on whether the space agency considered the number 13 unlucky.

Curiously, following the failure of Apollo-13 to land on the moon, the American space agency NASA has not named any other mission with that number.

Recently, officials of two space agencies — India’s ISRO and the NASA of the US — followed their respective traditions — at the send-off ceremony of NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) — an Earth science satellite being jointly built by them.

Outside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California and in front of a scale model of the NISAR satellite, NASA’s NISAR Project Manager Phil Barela and ISRO’s NISAR Project Director CV Shrikant ceremonially broke fresh coconuts.

The breaking of coconuts before an important event is an auspicious tradition in India to pave the way for the smooth completion of a task.

On his part, JPL Director Laurie Leshin as per his organisation’s tradition presented the ISRO delegation that included Chairman S.Somanath with a jar of lucky peanuts.

As regards the superstitions followed, more interesting is the tradition of Russian cosmonauts who urinate on the right back wheel of their transfer bus on their way to the launch centre, an ISRO space scientist had told IANS.

ISRO may be sending rockets and satellites to various planets but is also guided by their own superstitions and beliefs, a retired official had told IANS on condition of anonymity.

The Indian space agency will not start the countdown for a rocket flight at Rahu Kaalam, said the retired official.

Rahu Kaalam, or the one-and-a-half-hours of planet Rahu, is considered “inauspicious” to start any new work.

“In the case of inter-planetary missions, it is not possible to coincide auspicious time with the rocket’s launch time. The latter is decided based on the position of the target planet on the day when the spacecraft is expected to enter its orbit. So, the rocket countdown started at an auspicious time,” he explained.

Similarly, prior to every rocket mission, ISRO officials pray at the famed Lord Venkateswara Temple in Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh and place a replica of the rocket at the God’s feet seeking his blessings for a successful flight.

Over the years, some more temples near the Sriharikota rocket port have been added to the list and officials or their juniors visit those temples and pray for a mission’s success.

Similarly, pujas, or ceremonies, are conducted before starting the integration of different stages of a rocket.

India’s Rs 450 crore Mars Orbiter Mission, however, was a tradition breaker in a way by flying on a Tuesday.

“This was the first time in ISRO’s history that a rocket was launched on a Tuesday. Tuesday is generally considered an inauspicious day,” an ISRO official had told IANS.

However, another senior official involved in the Mars Orbiter Mission told IANS that for him, Tuesday was a lucky day as the mission succeeded.

According to a retired ISRO rocket scientist, a project director used to wear a new shirt on the day of a rocket launch.

“It is all individual beliefs. One cannot take chances with God and poison,” a former ISRO chief told IANS.

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