Guwahati: Even as the whole country continues to celebrate the historic feat of Chandrayaan-3, a young boy in a dingy corner of a relief camp for internally displaced people of violence-hit Manipur nurtures his bruised dream of becoming a rocket scientist.
The momentous soft-landing of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) developed Launch Vehicle Mark-3 rocket on the moon on August 23 this year even went to the extent that Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the day as the ‘National Space Day.’ Ahead of the nation’s remarkable day, 20-year-old Justice Konjengbam, a self-taught rocket enthusiast had already test-fired his improvised rocket thrice which all went okay, but not to his utmost satisfaction.
Ever since the unprecedented violence broke out in the northeastern state on May 3 this year, Justice with his parents and two younger sisters as well as hundreds of other people fled from their homes in the Churachandpur district and have taken refuge at a cluster of relief camps set up on the premises of Moirang College at neighboring Bishnupur district’s Moirang town.
Justice is currently pursuing his fifth-semester undergraduate programme in Physics at a government-run college. The rocket lover student’s first brush with success was in April 2022 as he test-fired a rocket made out of Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) pipe, plywood and iron slab as a launchpad, which touched a height of 100 feet, though his attempt was to reach 500 feet.
The experiment was conducted at the Moirang College ground in full view of his teachers and friends. Interestingly, the rocket, according to Justice, was assembled in the crude laboratory he set up in Churachandpur, and it took three months to prepare it. Thereafter, there was no looking back for the rocketeer. Justice again fired a rocket in November of the same year, which soared up to 1.5 kilometers.
In the latest test conducted this year, Justice’s rocket was able to reach a height of three kilometers. Given the current law and order situation of the state and having put up at a relief camp after getting displaced, Justice’s quest with rocketry faces many challenges.
“I felt really proud when I heard the news of Chandrayaan-3. I wished I could be a part of the ISRO mission in any section. I want to learn more about the propulsion engine,” Justice said.
But never in his wildest dreams had Justice dreamt that one day he would take shelter at a relief camp within the premises of his college. Though the family have Moirang domicile, they have been staying at a rented house in the New Bazar area of the Churachandpur district for over 20 years to eke out a living by selling vegetables. In their rented house, the young rocketeer set up his research laboratory wherein he conducted many failed experiments. With no sign of normalcy returning back any time soon, Justice is not sure if he will be able to see his laboratory again.
“I have named my experimentation on rocket propulsion as ‘Project Cocoon.’ Out of a cocoon comes a butterfly flying in the air, likewise, out of my laboratory a rocket will propel in the air and touch the sky,” said Justice, adding that the current law and order situation has badly hampered his work, yet he is not ready to give up very soon.
Admitting that he is not really aware about the Indian scenario of rocketry, Justice said it is a popular hobby in the West. But for him, it is not a hobby and he has put his heart and soul into rocketry, even after knowing that he has to go a long way.
Though Justice’s mother Konjengbam Ranjana expressed her contentment over her son’s success in his first launch of solid fuel rocket in April last year and his never-ending spirit and hard work to fulfill his rocketry dreams, she lamented that poverty dampens Justice’s visions.
“My son has been a restless child from a very young age. He keeps assembling something or the other. He wanted to make a robot when he was in 10th standard. But we had no money to buy his gadgets,” said Ranjana.
Justice maintained that Hollywood Sci-Fi movies have been a major influence since his childhood. His venture into rocketry was a lonely journey with no one to share about his dream and above all no money to meet his gadgetry needs. He made his first rocket with crude components mostly procured online with money borrowed from his friend and the internet was his only guide.
“I am happy that my family has been very supportive even though we are displaced now. Over and above, the teachers of Moirang College have given me a ray of hope to pursue my rocketry dreams,” Justice said.
Deputy Director of ISRO Dr Raghu Ningthoujam, who hails from the same district as Justice, on a different note pointed out that Justice’s rocketry besides infrastructural support needs the right kind of mentoring from a right person.
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