Two Indian space nerds are launching DNA and a printer into space—but why?


Team Space Kidz

Space Kidz team. Rifath Sharook (extreme left) and Mohammed Abdul Kashif (extreme right)

It was a love for space that brought Rifath Sharook and Mohammed Abdul Kashif to Space Kidz India, an organisation in Chennai that encourages youngsters to follow their passion in science. There, the two joined five others to form the team that made Kalam

SAT, which was launched by NASA in June this year from Wallops Island in the US. All of 64 gm and fitted inside a 3.8 cm cube, it’s a strong contender for the lightest satellite ever.

The idea for Kalam SAT, which also holds the distinction of being the first to be made through 3D printing, came about after a competition was launched by NASA and idoodlelearning, an education company. The competition, named Cubes in Space, called upon students from across the world to design projects that would fit in a 4-cm cube. Kalam SAT was one of the projects that was selected.

Rifath, who is now in his first year of college, was the lead scientist on the project, while Mohammed, an aeronautical engineer student, was the lead engineer. Built under the guidance of Space Kidz founder Srimathy Kesan, the satellite was named after the former President of India, the late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a scientist who loved interacting with children.  

The two are now busy with other projects. “The first project is about understanding space tourism and its impact,” said Rifath. As part of the project, a satellite named NSLV Kalam-2 will be sent into the stratosphere in a helium-charged balloon. It will carry two DNA samples to understand the impact of radiation in space on the human body. It too will be launched with NASA’s help.

Team Space Kidz

Space Kidz team. Rifath Sharook (third from left) and Mohammed Abdul Kashif (extreme right)

The satellite will also have a nano-printer that is programmed to automatically print the autobiography of Abdul Kalam once it reaches the highest altitude. “[It] has been programmed to keep printing until it runs out of paper,” said Rifath. The intention here is to explore the possibilities of effective space tourism.

The project is being developed by the Space Kidz junior team, which is being mentored by the seniors, including Rifath and Mohammed. The satellite, which was originally slated to be launched in August, is now expected to take flight in September.

The second project is the Friendship Satellite, which is being developed jointly with Russia’s Moscow Aviation Institute to mark the 70th year of Indian–Russian diplomatic ties. The satellite will initially be launched into orbit in October by Russia’s Progress cargo spacecraft and will dock at the International Space Station. “From there, the satellite will be launched into outer space in early 2018,” said Mohammed.

Rifath was inspired by his father, who was an astronaut and scientist, and Mohammed has been in love with the cosmos and beyond as long as he remembers. The two want to keep doing similar projects. “I want to create a private space company in India along the lines of Space X,” said Rifath. He completes his college classes by 1.30 pm and then spends time on the space projects. Mohammed, who completes his engineering next year, wants to pursue higher studies. “At the same time, I want to keep my connection with Space Kidz. Our aim is to make India the hub for aerospace, and we want to contribute to space tourism.”

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