Even as the whole country continues to celebrate the historic feat of Chandrayaan 3, a young lad in a dingy corner of a relief camp for displaced people of violence-hit Manipur nurtures his bruised dream of becoming a rocket scientist.
The momentous soft-landing of the ISRO-developed LVM3 rocket on the moon on August 23 this year even went to the extent that Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the day as ‘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 May 2023, Justice with his parents and two younger sisters as well as hundreds of other Meiteis were evacuated from their Churachandpur district residences, and have taken refuge at a cluster of relief camps set up on the premises of Moirang College at the neighbouring Bishnupur district’s Moirang town.
Justice is currently pursuing his fifth-semester undergraduate programme in Physics at the 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 PVC pipe, plywood and iron slab as Launchpad, which touched a height of 100 ft, though his attempt was to reach 500 ft.
The experiment was conducted at Moirang college ground in full view of his teachers and friends. Interestingly, the rocket, according to Justice, was assembled in his crude laboratory he set up in Churachandpur, and he took 3 months in preparation.
Thereafter, there was no looking back for the rocketeer. Justice again fired a rocket in November the same year, which soared up to 1.5 km.
In a latest test conducted this year, Justice’s rocket was able to reach a height of 3 km. 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 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 makeshift camp within the premises of his college. Though the family have Moirang domicile, they have been staying at a rented house in New Bazar of Churachandpur for more than 20 years to eke out a living by selling vegetables. In the rented house, the young rocketeer set up his research lab 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 lab again.
“I have named my experimentations on rocket propulsion as ‘Project Cocoon’. Out of a cocoon comes a butterfly flying in the air. Likewise, out of my lab 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 too 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 me, it is not a hobby. I have put my heart and soul into my rocketry. And I know I have to go a long way”, he said.
Though Konjengbam Ranjana, mother of Justice, expressed her contentment over her son’s success in his first launch of solid fuel rocket in April last year, his never-ending spirit and hard work to fulfil his rocketry dreams, she lamented that poverty dampens Justice’s visions.
“My son has been a restless child from a very young age – 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 (42).
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 principal and teachers of Moirang College have given me a ray of hope to pursue my rocketry”, added Justice.
Manipur Education Minister Thounaojam Basanta Kumar Singh recently declared Moirang College as one among 12 colleges selected for infrastructural development under ‘College Phagathansi Mission’.
Much to the delight of Justice, a Science Corner with a dedicated room for him, and College Students Mentoring Initiative (COSMI), under the Department of University and Higher Education was also launched in the college.
Principal of Moirang College, Dr Raheijuddin Sheikh said, “In my teaching career I haven’t come across a student like Justice, who is so passionate about his dream. His scientific temperament needs to be boosted further. I hope COSMI will be of much help to him.”
However, Deputy Director of ISRO Raghu Ningthoujam, who hails from the same district, on a different note pointed out that Justice’s rocketry besides infrastructural support needs a right kind of mentoring from a right person. Justice’s passion demands a proper scientific ecosystem before it meets an untimely end, he quipped.