In 2020, Homer Hickam, the original rocket boy – prominent for his book Rocket Boys- told me during an interview that “Bangladeshi folks interested in the space business” should follow young people in Coalwood and the surrounding area where he was raised.
“Their only hope for occupational success in the aerospace field is to go elsewhere,” said Homer.
In less than two years since he made the remarks, Nahiyan Al Rahman, a young Bangladeshi man from Mymensingh, made headlines for building a rocket brand named DhumketuX. Now, Nahiyan and his young team from Mymensingh Engineering.
College (MEC) are waiting for permission to fly their rockets.
In the process of securing permission to test the rockets, Nahiyan’s fame has already reached Homer, the NASA aerospace hero. He shared Nahiyan’s achievement on his verified Facebook page.
As elated as he was by Homer’s attention, Nahiyan, an introvert, has fallen ill from all the unsolicited attention and abrupt fame. For an unemployed, educated young man in his late 20s, life has mostly been a struggle so far. When he visits his village everyone inevitably asks: “Got a job yet?.” And at home, he has had to deal with his father’ criticism about why his son did not have a job, when his friends’ offsprings have already made them proud.
A young man like Nahiyan, in this country, is used to a not-so-visible lifestyle. The more he escapes judgmental aunties, uncles, and peers, the better. However, ever since the rocket project was covered by the national media, Nahiyan has been at the centre of attention. His inbox is flooded with messages and the phone keeps ringing all the time.
“We wanted to reveal the project after launching the rockets,” said Nahiyan. “But someone from the team leaked it and hence, the hassle of fame.”
On the bright side, the fame convinced his alma mater to build a lab for the rocket project operations and the government granted them permission to fly the rocket.
Chances are, after years of lone effort, this rocket boy may finally receive government-level assistance to realise his dream, which is anything but cost-effective as it involves testing, failing, retesting, and funnelling out to success. “Flying rockets to success is an arduous and expensive ordeal. Success hardly comes in the early attempts,” Nahiyan said. “But the hype is now something to worry about.”
Apparently, internet trolls are ready to assassinate his character and judge him in case the first few launches fail. Also, there are pools of “experts” ready to weigh in with unsolicited criticism and complaints as to why trusting an “amateur” in the first place is a bad decision.
Again, on the brighter side, he is now more than ready to embrace the challenges because “help is finally coming from different quarters of the government.”
The making of a rocket boy
Nahiyan was raised in a char area located in Gaibandha district.
As a child, since the early 2000s, he had a fascination for flying objects. Nahiyan would play with plastic toys available in the village and also make toys of his own. This is how he became passionate to create new things.
He wanted to study at BUET but could not perform well in his HSC examination. Nahiyan helped his friend during the maths exam and the magistrate took away his paper for a long time. The rocket boy thought he “would be able to build rockets if I studied in BUET.”
Nahiyan took another attempt at the HSC exams but unfortunately, after the exams, he was diagnosed with jaundice during the admission tests. Given the short gap between HSC and admission tests, and his health condition, his dream to get into one of the leading universities like BUET did not come true.
“Thank God I made it to an engineering college like MEC under the Faculty of Electrical and Electronics Engineering. In the beginning, I had little to no interest in college studies; I dreamt of studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) instead. Back then, I did not realise it was a far-fetched idea.”
At MEC, with his friend Neyamul, Nahiyan built a laboratory called Alfa Science Lab, which gave birth to many robotics projects and the rocket that we speak of today. Nahiyan laughed and said, “BUET might not have been my fate but the rocket sure was.”
The rocket science
Even if one has the talent and passion for rocket science, it requires proper, in-depth study.
“It may seem like rockets can be built based on information gathered from YouTube but, while working on our project, we realised rocket science is not something we could understand and work on with superficial knowledge,” said Nahiyan.
The rocket boy sourced books from abroad, took lessons and availed certificates from various open sources from the MIT and Indian Institute of Technologies (IIT), Kanpur. In the meantime, his friend Neyamul got detached from the project and Nahiyan was left all alone in the Lab.
“People thought I had gone mad since I was barely seen outside,” said Nahiyan.
A few years later, some juniors became enthusiastic about his work and joined the lab. They began working on robots while Nahiyan developed toy rockets.
They participated in various robotics competitions; won runners-up award at the national level in Bangladesh Digital Day 2019 competition; won a zonal level award of IIT, Bombay in 2019; visited IIT, Bombay in January 2020 and qualified for the semi-finals.
But deep down, rockets and aerodynamics remained Nahiyan’s driving force.
Before participating in robotics competitions, he took a few lakh takas from home and built a two-seater electric aircraft right up to the wing, before running out of money. Among all the chaotic endeavours at high cost with no profit, Nahiyan tried to build an electric bike, thinking there would be a market.
“I took another loan through my mother and invested some of it in my electric bike project. But soon, I realised I will get no investors here.” duate thesis level rockets.” These rockets’ success will be determined if “we can successfully launch it from the launchpad, it reaches 5km high altitude, and if we can collect the telemetric, temperature, humidity, pressure and necessary information.”
With time, right before the pandemic, Nahiyan decided to invest all the remaining money on the rocket, as a last try. With the assistance of his small team, the work was gearing up fast.
“One day, my father visited and advised me to get a job, leaving behind the rocket project. I begged him to give me time till April; I knew my work would be done by then. Thank God, the first phase of work is now complete,” the rocket boy said.
The rockets he built as of now are “undergra
Now that Nahiyan has the necessary support to further strengthen his project, he is “optimistic; my college has offered a lab and promised to bear the operational costs. With their help, I believe, I will get funding as well. The government is with us. I will not have to do it all alone if God wills.”
When asked about his dream, the rocket boy said, “I want to be an Astronaut. Except for India, no South Asian country is in space. We want to rule over the budding nanosat market. I hope we will launch Bangladesh’s next satellite.”
‘My idol is Peter Beck’
Nahiyan admires Peter Beck, the CEO of Rocket Lab, who champions nanosats.
While talking about his idol, the rocket boy said, “Nanosatellite is the future – it involves smaller size rockets and lower costs. Peter’s electron rocket costs around USD7.5 mn per launch, India’s ISRO does the launch for USD17 – 27 mn whereas, Elon’s.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 does it for USD62 mn. When it comes to geo-orbit satellites, they charge USD300-400 mn! With nanosats, we may even get it at around USD1 mn!” Nahiyan says he initially intended to build DhumketuX based on the SpaceX model with Elon Musk as his idol.
However, he soon realised the risk factors and how Elon could go bankrupt if NASA did not invest USD1.5 bn in SpaceX in 2008. Now, Nahiyan wants to follow a proper channel via the government, instead of private investment.
“Nothing would have been possible if my mother had not been by my side every step of the way. She stood beside me in everything I did,” a grateful Nahiyan said.
As for his father, “He now says – go ahead! My father promised to help me in my endeavours with rockets even if it requires selling his land,” concluded Nahiyan.