Chennai: Indian space programme is now on mission 2.0 mode with programmes like human space mission, inter-planetary missions, setting up space stations, even while trying to catch up with other countries is incidental, said a top official of Indian space agency.
Sixty-two year old Kailasavadivoo Sivan, the Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is a man of cool composure. Even as hectic activity is under progress for the realisation of Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) second moon mission-Chandrayaan-2- at rocket port Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, using heavy lift rocket nicknamed as `Bahubali', Sivan says "he is cool".
"I am not tensed up. My family members also do not see any difference in me. But everybody knows the upcoming Chandrayaan-2 launch is very important and there is some level of anxiety even among my family members," Sivan told IANS in an interview.
Even during the first moon mission-Chandrayaan-1- when there was a leak while fueling the rocket, it was Sivan, then Group Director, Guidance and Mission Simulation at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) who made the calculations, predicted the possible fallout, and guaranteed that adequate margins existed for a successful mission.
With a flurry of space activities like landing on the moon, preparations for human space mission and an announcement about setting up a space station, is ISRO trying to catch up with other major space faring nations like the US, Russia, China and others?
"All these years we've had the vision of Vikram Sarabhai of using the space technology for the benefit of the common man and harnessing space technology for nation development," Sivan said.
According to him, the country has developed the capability to build its own rockets and satellites and render services to the common man like the communication, climate prediction and others.
"We are now reaping the harvest of the seeds sown by Sarabhai. Now we have to provide and sow the seeds for the future generation. This is vision/mission 2.0. And catching up with other advanced space faring nations is incidental," Sivan remarked.
On the learnings/benefits from Chandrayaan-2 mission, Sivan said: "The technology for lander-Vikram and rover Pragyaan are new. The throttleable engine is also new. In the absence of atmosphere, the landing of Vikram will be done by variable braking. We have also used a lot of sensors in Chandrayaan-2 mission. The control, navigation technology is also new."
On the science front, performing in-situ experiment on the moon by Pragyaan is also a new technology for India. "Some of the technologies will surely find use in the future within ISRO operations. For instance, the variable throttleable engine may find use in our rockets. I am not able to tell where else the new technologies will find use and their commercial potential," Sivan said.
The moon mission is expected to give scientists and youth a fresh impetus for research and scientific temper. On the status of ISRO's ambitious human space mission project Gaganyaan, Sivan said: "From the design stage the human space capsule has progressed to realisation stage. We are targeting December 2020 for the first unmanned mission."
ISRO's plans to develop a small rocket - Small Satellite Launch Vehicle-SSLV - is moving at a good pace and it will be realised this year, he said. Did Sivan imagine that he will be heading ISRO during his college days? Looking back at his life, Sivan said space was an unheard of field till my college days.
"During those days, our focus was on clearing the exams and getting a job as a banker, teacher or others. I hail from a village Sarakkalvilai in Kanyakumari district. Our world was only our village. Even while doing B.Sc course we were not aware of space.
"I studied in Tamil medium in a government-owned school. I wore only dhoti and shirt without any footwear till I finished my graduation at the ST Hindu College in Nagercoil. Only after joining MIT (Madras Institute of Technology) did I start wearing trousers and chappals.
"It was during my B.Tech days at MIT, that we came to know about space," he added. Sivan, now ISRO's rocket man, got into ISRO as a campus recruit from Indian Institute of Science (IISc) on completion of Masters in Engineering. "I did a project on Trajectory Automation at IISc, so got into VSSC as a campus recruit," he mused.
Son of a farmer, Sivan used to help his father who was a farmer and also in his vegetables/fruits trading activity during his school days. Today, as the head of one of the world's premier space agencies, Sivan's task is cut out.
When asked about his management style, Sivan said, "I delegate work and expect deliverables as promised. Space system is unforgiving. If there is a problem, it will fail." Sivan has two sons and his wife is a homemaker.
-By Venkatachari Jagannathan