India today celebrates the golden jubilee of its first rocket launch from Thumba, thus pioneering India’s space odyssey that further went on to set benchmarks with Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan. The sleepy village of Thumba woke up to form an important landmark in modern India and its various pursuits in science, technology and research, when the American-built rocket Nike-Apache took off from here on 21st November, 1963. The launch site came to be known as Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launch Station (TERLS), which was later renamed to Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC)- a major center named by ISRO after the pioneer of Indian Space Programme, Vikram Sarabhai.
In 1962, a national committee on space research was formed which was chaired by Vikram Sarabhai. Sarabhai called upon a team of young scientists and engineers for the Thumba mission and had them visit US to acquire more knowledge and to get hands-on training in sounding rockets. Among those gathered, a prominent name included former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam. Thumba as a launch station was chosen because of scientific reasons- the magnetic equator passed through South Kerala making it an ideal launchpad. The launch facility was developed by shifting several fishing families from Thumba to an adjacent coastal stretch, while the then Catholic Bishop persuaded them all in doing so. A church in that vicinity was retained and later transformed into a space museum.