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India becomes first to land on moon’s South Pole: youngest member of the mission says always dream big

I know firsthand the struggles and limitations that come with growing up poor and I urge young people in similar situations to dream big. Nothing you set your mind and heart on is out of reach.

Today, when I look up at the moon and bask under its glow, I think of the work and passion I put into the Chandrayaan-3 mission and my heart feels full.

  • 4 months ago
  • October 17, 2023
5 min read
Bharat Kumar worked as an engineer on the rover sent to the moon as part of India's Chandrayaan-3 mission. For 10 days, the rover gathered data and images to be sent back to Earth for analysis. Bharat Kumar worked as an engineer on the rover sent to the moon as part of India's Chandrayaan-3 mission. For 10 days, the rover gathered data and images to be sent back to Earth for analysis. | Photo courtesy of Brian McGowan from Unsplash
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Bharat Kumar, a mechanical engineer from the small town of Charouda, grew up in a low-income family. He studied at a government school and then graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in Dhanbad, Jharkhand. His mother ran a small tea stall and his father worked as a security guard. Despite all financial odds, Bharat Kumar worked hard and was spotted by the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) during a job placement drive at his college and was employed as the youngest team member on the Chandrayaan-3 mission.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
On August 23, the Lander Module of the Indian Space Research Organization made a touchdown on the moon’s surface, making India’s moon mission Chandrayaan-3 a huge success. The country became the first to land on the moon’s South Pole. Chandrayaan-3 consisted of a lunar lander named Vikram and a lunar rover named Pragyan.

BENGALURU, India — August 23, 2023 marked the historic day India became the first country in the world to land on the moon’s South Pole. People across the country cheered as they watched the Chandrayaan-3 space mission unfold on their television and phone screens. As the youngest person on the team, I worked as a mechanical engineer throughout the project, contributing to design, testing, and maintenance.

The team I worked on maintained uninterrupted focus throughout the preparations, barely speaking to anyone outside the four walls of our workspace. The closer we got to launch, I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my body. When the day finally arrived, goosebumps covered my skin and pride filled my heart for India’s incredible achievement.

As a young man growing up poor, I dreamed of a future beyond cleaning counters

Growing up in the small town of Charouda in Chhattisgarh, I was surrounded by conflict. The Naxalite-Maoist insurgency erupted in a fight between the Maoist groups and the Indian government in the area where I lived. When clashes occurred around my home, I ran inside to hide from the attacks. Peeking out of my window, I saw the fighting with my own eyes.

Like many people in the country, my family was poor, but my parents pushed me to believe I could do anything I wanted in life. Their never-ending support sparked a desire in me to learn. I enrolled in a small school nearby and studied throughout the day. Class after class, my scores skyrocketed; but at night I had to help my family.

Alongside my mother in her tea stand, every evening I cleaned cups and wiped counters as I dreamed of a future. Images danced through my mind of all the things I might do. Those dreams crystallized clearly in time and all doubt vanished. Despite the long nights and countless hours staring at schoolbooks, my motivation to become something never wavered.

When the time came, I applied to IIT Dhanbad – the Indian Institute of Technology. The joy of being accepted was soon replaced by disappointment. Although it was a public university, the huge amount of money we would have to pay proved insurmountable. Just as my family was about to give up, something incredible happened. A business group in India offered to help. It felt like a miracle.

Being selected for ISRO’s Chandrayaan 3 mission

During my seventh semester in Dhanbad, my work caught the attention of the Indian Space Research Organization’s chairman S. Somanath. He scheduled an interview to meet me, and we experienced an immediate connection. After the interview, I felt like I was walking on the clouds. The idea of working for India’s top space research agency at only 23 years old felt like a dream come true. As the days passed, I began feeling anxious as I eagerly awaited their call. “Will it ever come,” I started to wonder. 

When the day finally arrived and I got the job, I jumped up and down in ecstasy. I felt immediately restless and eager to tell everyone. On the phone, I recounted the opportunity to my mother, but she didn’t understand what I was talking about, so the moment I got home I explained it to my parents.

From a young age, Bharat worked with his mother at her tea stall. | Photo courtesy of Bharat Kumar

“You can finally quit your jobs and retire,” I announced gleefully. Sending them my first salary proved to be an amazing moment in our lives. Time moved quickly and after all the preparatory work for the mission was complete, I stared at my ceiling, picturing the moon and stars above me. The time came and I could taste it.

The team and I prayed for the success of the mission, hoping to make history in India in a spectacular fashion. On the day of launch, we awaited takeoff, our heats beating at a fast pace. Time became suspended and I held my breath. Everything around me went quiet.

To anyone who struggles with poverty: dream big and never stop believing

It took 40 long days for India to reach the moon and when it got there, we followed the rover with our eyes glued to the monitor. Every day, we waited for news and for the rover to send photographs back to Earth. A sense of overwhelming stress mixed with pride and excitement.

When the rover completed all of its assignments on September 3, 2023, we finally found time to properly celebrate. It felt like years of hard work culminated into that moment – to me sitting there, in that room, alongside my equally deserving colleagues.

Despite coming from poverty and the challenges of my young life, I never doubted for a second I would work on something incredible in my career. When the project ended, my story of being the youngest team member assigned to the Chandrayaan-3 mission circulated throughout social media.

An eruption of attention ensued and overnight, I turned into an inspiration for people around the world. The experience touched me deeply. I know firsthand the struggles and limitations that come with growing up poor and I urge young people in similar situations to dream big. Nothing you set your mind and heart on is out of reach.

Today, when I look up at the moon and bask under its glow, I think of the work and passion I put into the Chandrayaan-3 mission and my heart feels full.

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