In 1962 Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space programme chose Thumba in Kerala as the country’s first launch site because it is located on the earth’s magnetic equator. The location he had in mind was the local church, St. Mary Magdalene’s. Apparently built by St. Francis Xavier in 1544, local fishermen later on spotted a sandalwood statue of Mary Magdalene that had washed up on the beach. Eventually, the church was named after St. Mary Magdalene in the Diocese of Cochin.
When Dr. Sarabhai and his scientists approached the head of the Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Bernard Pereira, the Bishop of Trivandrum, he asked Dr. Sarabhai and his team to attend Sunday Mass at the church where he would put the question to the parishioners.
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, in his book Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power within India, says the Bishop addressed the congregation, “My children, I have a famous scientist with me who wants our church and our church land for the work of space science and research. Science seeks truth that enriches our human life. Spiritual preachers seek the help of the Almighty to bring peace to mankind. In short, what Dr. Sarabhai and I are doing is the same: seeking the Almighty’s blessings for human prosperity. Children, can we give them God’s abode for a scientific mission?” There was silence for a while followed by a hearty ‘Amen’ from the congregation. And the rest is history.