India's 1st Antarctic Mission Top Secret, Felt Like James Bond Film: Scientists

The first Indian scientific expedition to Antarctica was launched in 1981 with a 21-member team under the leadership of Dr S Z Qasim. The expedition set sail from the shores of Goa.

India's 1st Antarctic Mission Top Secret, Felt Like James Bond Film: Scientists

In 1983, Dakshin Gangotri, the country's first scientific base station in Antarctica was set up.

Panaji:

Forty years after India set up its first scientific base station in Antarctica, the researchers associated with the mission on Friday recalled how the country's first expedition to this polar region was kept under wraps from everyone, including their trainers and family members.

The first Indian scientific expedition to Antarctica was launched in 1981 with a 21-member team under the leadership of Dr S Z Qasim. The expedition set sail from the shores of Goa.

In 1983, Dakshin Gangotri, the country's first scientific base station in Antarctica was set up.

"The operation (the first Indian scientific expedition to Antarctica) was top secret. The initial meetings were held behind closed doors with the top level officials, including cabinet secretaries and Navy chief, participating in it. We felt like we were in a James Bond movie," Amitava Sen Gupta, a member of the first expedition, said.

He was speaking at the 'Antarctica Day' event organised at the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCPOR) in Vasco town, 40 km from here. Antarctica Day is an international day recognising the anniversary of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959.

Sen Gupta and other members of the first expedition were felicitated by NCPOR director Dr Themban Meloth on the occasion.

Sen Gupta recalled how he and his team mates were trained on the Indian Navy's ship before the mission.

"But the real challenge was that the trainers did not know for what they were imparting training. The expedition remained largely under wraps from the public eye owing to lots of uncertainties," he said.

The secrecy of the mission was such that the team members were not even allowed to reveal anything about it to their families, he said.

S G Prabhu Matondkar, another member of the mission, said there was a feeling among the team mates that they should give something back to the country considering the support given by the political leadership for this expedition.

Before the first Indian scientific expedition was conceived, India's researchers were part of the Soviet Union Antarctic Scientific Expedition.

Dr Paramjit Singh Sehra was the first Indian to reach Antarctica as part of the Soviet Union's expedition in 1971.

In his address, Sehra narrated how late scientist Dr Vikram Sarabhai encouraged him to be part of the expedition, which later opened up opportunities for India for research on this polar region.

"When Vikram Sarabhai told me about participating in the expedition of the Soviet Union, he said that it is not going to be a small excursion. He told me to go there and see what is happening there (in Antarctica)," he said.

Dr Harsh K Gupta, who headed a team that set up India's first scientific station in Antarctica, said it was a race against time for them to establish the base.

He recalled how the then prime minister Indira Gandhi actively helped in setting up the base in Antarctica during India's third expedition.

Antarctica Day is celebrated on December 1 every year to highlight the international cooperation that makes the continent's governance possible and to encourage educators to incorporate Antarctica into their curriculum, government officials said.
 

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