ISRO's Amazing Accomplishments - I

It was Friday night and Saturday’s morning. Vikram began its vertical descent at 1.50 am. Silent prayers started in the control room. Hardly 2.1 km away from its destination. Three more minutes to land. Yeah, three more long minutes. All of a sudden, screens turned blank. Smiles vanished. Tension took over. Heavy-sighs. Slowly women and men in front of the consoles realised: Vikram failed to land on moon. Deadly-silence. Swelled-up eyes. Silent sobs. A sudden landing of gloom in the control room. Cheerful Indians sitting in front of TVs at once turned dumb, throats choked.

As the day dawned, it slowly became clear that all is not lost: as Madhavan Nair, former ISRO Chairman said, “we need not worry too much…95% of mission objectives have been achieved…already.” Our scientists attempted to do something very, very difficult. After all, failure is a part of every experiment. And ISRO has overcome such failures of the past with great successes. That’s what your history says. And our PM has aptly captured this tradition of yours when he said: “You are those people who live for India’s victory, for her success and strive to keep India’s head high.”

Cheer up! For, you have already covered a distance of 3 83 007. 9 Km. Success is not far off… it’s after all 2.1 Km away. Look into your past and get embolden to march ahead with a greater resolve…you are sure to sail through the rest of 2.1 Km too soon.

On this occasion, I reproduce here what I wrote in 2014 (Effective Executive, Vol.17, No. 4) about ISRO’s glorious achievements and particularly, its work-culture… hoping that it would boost the morale of the young lot…and keep the nation’s faith in ISRO intact…


Indian space research activities can well be traced to the early 1920s when S K Mitra, a scientist from Calcutta, conducted experiments leading to the sounding of the ionosphere by application of ground-based radio methods. By 1940s, space research had graduated into balloon-borne experiments. The real momentum leading to organized space research had, of course, emanated from the active research undertaken by Vikram Sarabhai from Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad and Homi Bhabha from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bombay in 1945. Initially, the experiments were centered around studying cosmic radiation, high altitude and airborne testing of instruments, deep underground experimentation in one of the deepest mining sites in the world, Kolar mines, studies of the upper atmosphere, etc. It is however, with the establishment of Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) with Homi Bhabha as its founder secretary in 1950 that the formal funding of space research commenced that obviously encouraged universities too to study various aspects of meteorology and earth’s magnetic field.

Against this backdrop, an attempt has been made here to trace the incredible accomplishments of ISRO that today stands out as the most successful scientific institute in the country and analyze how a government-owned institute could steer itself through such an amazing streak of success, that too, in an ever challenging environment of space technology and bring laurels to itself and the nation. The rest of the paper is organized thus: 1 – Tracing the Establishment of ISRO; 2 – ISRO: Organizational Setup; 3 – ISRO’s Accomplishments; 4 – Role of Leadership Behind ISRO’s Amazing Success; and 5 – Discussion and Conclusion.

1. Establishment of ISRO

It is said that prompted by the successful launching of Sputnik by the then Soviet Union in 1957, Prof. Sarabhai successfully convinced the Government of India about the importance of a space research program for India. As a result, in 1961, Government of India entrusted the task of studying various aspects of space research and its peaceful uses to the DAE. In 1962, DAE set up Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) with Sarabhai as the chairman to organize a national space program. And it is with the establishment of INCOSPAR that the modern era of space research formally began in India.

Immediately after its formation, INCOSPAR identified Thumba, near Thiruvananthapuram — the site, over which, the geomagnetic equator of earth passed — and established the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) to launch sounding rockets to carry out meteorological and upper atmospheric research. It is on the historical day of November 21, 1963 that the rocket-based space research — measuring the equatorial electrojet parameters; studying upper atmospheric phenomena, cosmic rays and energetic X-ray and gamma rays — began in the country with the firing of Nike Apache, the imported rocket from the US, from the TERLS, Thumba.

Realizing the importance of developing indigenous competence in space technology, Sarabhai established Space Science and Technology Center (SSTC) in Thumba to work on rocket technology. Later, sponsoring TERLS as an international sounding rocket launching facility, India formally dedicated it to the United Nations (UN) on February 2, 1968 at the hands of the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. At the dedication ceremony, Sarabhai elaborated India’s vision for space research thus: “We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the explorations of the moon or the planets or manned space flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society, which we find in our country.”1 By dedicating TERLS to the UN, Sarabhai had ensured that the young Indian science community had the benefit of rubbing shoulders with scientists from several countries such as the USA, USSR, France, Japan, West Germany and UK who have utilized and continued to utilize the TERLS facility for conducting rocket-based experiments.

In 1969, DAE reconstituted INCOSPAR as an advisory body under the India National Science Academy (INSA) and established the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) as the prime institution of the government to develop space technology and its application for national interests and Sarabhai became its first Chairman. Later, Government of India constituted the Space Commission and established the Department of Space (DOS) and brought ISRO under DOS on June 01, 1972. The Space Commission formulates policies and oversees their implementation, while DOS gets the policies implemented through ISRO and other institutes by providing necessary financial support.

2. ISRO: Organizational Setup

Over the last five decades, ISRO, gaining considerable mastery over the ever challenging task of developing space technology and its utilization, has graduated from experimental and demonstration phases to an operation era by offering its potential to address the national needs.

It has become largely self-reliant to design and build satellites that can provide vital services like telecommunications, television broadcasting, meteorological forecasts, disaster management support and natural resources survey, and launch them using indigenously designed and developed launch vehicles. All of this has been achieved through a string of amorphous institutions that are welded together into a dynamic structure capable of producing results time and again. Some of the important units are listed hereunder along with their main responsibilities:

2.1 Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) at Thiruvananthapuram is the ISRO’s lead center for launch vehicles. It undertakes design, development and integration of satellite launch vehicles for various missions. It is engaged in technology development, qualification and realization of various subsystems; development of avionics, control systems, aeronautics and solid propulsion. It undertakes advanced R&D pertaining to satellite launch vehicles to ensure self-reliance in launch vehicle technology and spacecraft subsystems for ISRO’s satellite program.

2.2 ISRO Satellite Center at Bengaluru is engaged in the development of satellite technology for scientific, technological and application missions. Accordingly, it is divided into five functional units: mechanical systems area, including thermal systems and spacecraft mechanisms; digital and communications area; integration and power area; and controls and mission area. It also offers facilities to test and ensure that the subsystems and systems match the requirements of space environment. It has so far developed more than 50 satellites such as scientific, communication and remote sensing satellites.

2.3 Space Vehicle Launch Center at Sriharikota has two launch pads offering necessary infrastructure for launching satellites into low-earth orbit, polar orbit and geostationary transfer orbits. It also provides complete support for vehicle assembly, fueling, checkout and launch operations. It also facilitates launching of sounding rockets to study the earth’s atmosphere.

2.4 Space Applications Center at Ahmedabad is one of the major centers of ISRO playing a vital role in harnessing space technology for a wide variety of applications for societal benefits. Primarily responsible to design and develop payloads, societal applications, capacity building and space sciences. It carries out several application programs like mapping natural resources, weather and environmental studies, disaster monitoring, etc. It indeed creates a synergy of technology, science and applications.

2.5 National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) at Hyderabad acquires and processes remote sensing satellite data and disseminates to the user organizations. It provides disaster management support services. It also undertakes execution of remote sensing application projects in collaboration with the users.

2.6 Liquid Propulsion Systems Center (LPSC) operates from two centers: Valiamala center researches development of Earth Storable and Cryogenic propulsion, engines along with associated control systems and components for launch vehicles and spacecrafts. Bengaluru center undertakes integration of satellite propulsion systems with GEOSAT and IRS programs. It designs and develops monopropellant propulsion system, system engineering, transducer and spacecraft propellant tanks. It also researches into development of electric propulsion system, propellant gauging system for spacecraft, advanced transducers, etc.

2.7 ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) at Mahendragiri offers infrastructure support for critical activities like assembly, integration and testing of earth storable propellant engines for Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and GSLV MKIII launch vehicles; assembly, integration and testing of cryogenic engines and stages for GSLV and GSLV MKIII launch vehicles; high altitude testing of upper stage engines and spacecraft thrusters; automatic testing of various subsystems of launch vehicles and satellites; structural test facility for pressurized hardware up to 5 m diameter, etc. It also produces cryogenic propellants for cryogenic rocket programs.

2.8 ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TTC) Network headquartered at Bengaluru, with TTC ground stations at Bengaluru, Lucknow, SHAR (Sriharikota), Thiruvananthapuram, Port Blair Island, Brunei, Biak (Indonesia) and Mauritius, offers TTC support services for the launch vehicle and low-earth orbiting spacecraft and deep space missions of ISRO and other space agencies around the world.

2.9 Master Control Facility at Hassan facilitates monitoring and control of all the geostationary satellites of ISRO. It carries out operations meant for initial orbit raising of satellites, in-orbit payload testing, and on-orbit operations throughout the life of these satellites. Also, continuously tracks and commands satellites, carries out special operations like eclipse management, station-keeping maneuvers, etc.

Besides these major centers, there are several other units, agencies, facilities and laboratories that are spread across the country such as Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), National Atmospheric Research Laboratory (NARL), North Eastern-Space Applications Center (NE-SAC) and Semi-Conductor Laboratory (SCL) which cater to the needs of ISRO’s programs. There are also many private corporates that are roped in to fabricate supply of essential materials/fabricate parts that go into the assembling of launch vehicles, spacecrafts, etc. from time to time as the program demanded.
3. ISRO’s Accomplishments

“Indians are very proud of the ‘constellation’ of more than a dozen of the country’s satellites in orbit, a feat performed on, what the well-known United States-based magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology called a few years ago, a ‘shoestring’ budget”2, said Roddam Narasimha, Director of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru. And that is what keeps ISRO on a high pedestal in the eyes of every Indian. For, who would not be proud of an institution that carried a 700 kg French satellite and a 15 kg Japanese student satellite into space through its PSLV rocket.

Exhibit 1:
Chronology of Important Achievements


The first sounding rocket was launched from TERLS on November 21.


Space Science and Technology Center (SSTC) was established in Thumba.


Satellite Telecommunication Earth Station was erected at Ahmedabad.


Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was created in the DAE.


Sriharikota (AP) rocket launching station established.


The government established the Space Commission and the Department of Space (DOS) in June. DOS reports directly to the Prime Minister.


ISRO placed under DOS on June 1.


ISRO made a government organization on April 1.


Aryabhata, the first Indian space satellite, was launched for India on April 19.


Bhaskara-I, an experimental satellite for earth observations, launched on June 7.


The first experimental launch of an SLV-3 rocket on August 10 failed to place its Rohini Technology Payload satellite in the orbit.


On July 18, India successfully launched its own Rohini-1 satellite with an indigenously developed Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) rocket from the Sriharikota launch station.


Rohini-3, communications satellite, was launched in August to offer nationwide television coverage.


Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, a 35-year-old Indian Air Force pilot, became the first Indian cosmonaut, the 138th man in space when he spent eight days aboard the USSR's space station Salyut 7.


The first developmental launch of a larger Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) rocket on March 24 failed to place its SROSS-1 satellite in the orbit. However, it could lift a 300-lb satellite to an orbit 250 miles above earth.


The second developmental launch of an ASLV in July also failed. However, the subsequent third and fourth attempts were successful.


The Indian-built INSAT-2 geostationary communications and meteorological satellite superseded an American-built INSAT-1.


Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) debuted in September, but failed to attain orbit.


The first launch of Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) rocket was successful on April 18.


Launch of Kalpana-1 satellite on board a PSLV rocket.


Launch of GSAT-2 on board GSLV and Resourcesat-1 by PSLV.


Launch of EDUSAT by GSLV's first operational flight.


Second launch pad was commissioned at Sriharikota. Launch of Cartosat-1 and Hamsat by PSLV.


Second operational flight of GSLV with INSAT-4C. For the first time, an Indian rocket carried a communication satellite. But the mission failed.


Launch of Cartosat-2 with Space Capsule Recovery Experiment and two foreign satellites and successful recovery of the space capsule. Launch of Italian satellite AGILE by PSLV and INSAT-4CR by GSLV.


Launch of Israeli satellite Tecsar by PSLV. Launch of two Indian and eight foreign satellites by a single PSLV.

India's first moon mission Chandrayaan-1 by PSLV.


Launch of Radar Imaging Satellite (RISAT-2) and ANUSAT from Anna University (first satellite from an Indian university) by PSLV. Launch of seven satellites by PSLV, including India's Oceansat.


Failure of two GSLV missions. Launch of Cartosat-2B, STUDSAT and three small foreign satellites by PSLV.


Launch of Resourcesat-2 and two small satellites by PSLV. Launch of GSAT-12 by PSLV. Launch of Megha-Tropiques and three small satellites by PSLV.


Launch of RISAT-1 by PSLV. Launch of French satellite SPOT 6 and Japanese satellite Proiteres.


Mars Orbiter Mission, India's first interplanetary probe to Mars was launched successfully by PSLV-C25 on November 05, 2013.


Spacecraft successfully enters Martian Orbit and captures first image of Mars.

Commenting on ISRO’s Mangalyaan success, American weekly news magazine Time3 said: “Nobody gets Mars right on the first try. The US didn’t, Russia didn’t, the Europeans didn’t. But on September 24, India did. That’s when the Mangalyaan ... went into orbit around the Red Planet, a technological feat no other Asian nation has yet achieved.” The Mars spacecraft that costed ISRO US$74 mn, has been called by Time as “The Supersmart Spacecraft.” And it picked up ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission for inclusion among the 25 best inventions of 2014 that made “the world better, smarter and — in some cases — a little more fun.”

There are of course, critiques who question ISRO’s extraterrestrial projects a waste of money, for two-fifths of children in India remain stunted from malnutrition. But space programs help us put satellites into Earth orbit to better our communications, better our abilities to monitor weather behavior that ultimately benefit common man immensely. For instance, Economist4 states that a fierce cyclone that hit India’s east coast in the last month of 2013 killed few, whereas a similar-strength one in the same spot, in 1999, killed over 10,000. And the reason for it is: Indian weather satellites helped to make possible far more accurate predictions of where and when the storm would hit.


To sum up the accomplishments of ISRO and the general good it did for spreading the scientific temper across India that our first Prime Minister wished for, it makes great sense to quote here what Dr. Mayank Vahia, Scientist, TIFR said in his reply to a question, “How do you summarize the development and changes in Indian science education compared to 25 years back?”: “I think India has made great strides. In the 1980s, we had to go to USA to conduct space studies (and I was involved in an experiment on Space Station in 1986), then we could send instrument up on Russian satellites. Now we are completely self-sufficient. If you have a good idea and are willing to pursue it with vigor, you can do it from India.”

4. Role of Leadership Behind ISRO’s Amazing Success

It is always difficult to identify all the reasons behind the success of any institution and particularly, it is all the more difficult to carry out such an exercise when it comes to evaluating a government institution. Nevertheless, often, leadership emerges out as the most obvious reason, for whenever there is an objective to be achieved or a task to be carried out by more than one person, leadership — “activity of influencing people to strive willingly for group objectives”; “interpersonal influences exercised in a situation and directed through the communication process, towards the attainment of a specialized goal or goals” — automatically makes its presence felt. As an effective conductor of a symphony, a leader strives to build an “expression of a harmonious and effective unity” and also make it “a going affair” in an organization so as to “orchestrate the energies of people around” him towards the goal. The criticality of leader and leadership for a successful journey of any institution can be gauged from what Peter Drucker once said: “The most critical people decision, and the one that is hardest to undo, is the succession to the top.”

Ever since ISRO was established, a galaxy of scientists/technocrats headed it as chairman offering right leadership from time to time (see Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 2: ISRO – Chairmen

Vikram Sarabhai


9 years

M G K Menon


9 months

Satish Dhawan


12 years

U R Rao


10 years

K Kasturirangan


9 years

G Madhavan Nair


6 years

K Radhakrishnan

2009 - 2014

5 years














We shall now take a critical look at the role played by the successive leaders in sustaining such a high rate of success in ISRO for almost more than half a century, making it a visionary institution of the Government of India.

4.1 Vikram Sarabhai: The Founder Chairman Who Laid a Strong Foundation for ‘Achievement-Culture’ in ISRO.

In 1962, Prof. Vikram Sarabhai, having been invited by Prime Minister Nehru to organize India’s space research, founded India’s space program. While the superpowers were developing space technology for strengthening their military power, Sarabhai, as the founder Chairman of INCOSPAR dreamt of a unique space program for India: using satellites for mass education, for developing communication, weather forecasting and mineral prospecting. He drew up plans to transmit education to remote villages across India with the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE). Drawing vision by itself, of course, would not deliver results; they need to be executed and Sarabhai — a man of multifaceted character — initiated right action to translate the vision into reality with utmost passion. His innovative ideas coupled with his “excellent sense of economics and managerial skills” helped him align the workforce towards the organizational vision and accomplish success.

4.1.1 A Creative Leader

In 1962, COSPAR had pointed out that “The equatorial region has special scientific interest for meteorology and aeronomy. In particular, the magnetic equator is highly significant in the investigation of the Earth’s magnetic field and the ionosphere”. Now, driven by this observation of COSPAR and considering that the equatorial electrojet phenomena, confined to a narrow region over the magnetic equator that passes through South India, Sarabhai decided to establish the Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) at Thumba, near Thiruvananthapuram, for carrying out aeronomy and astronomy experiments. But Sarabhai encountered the problem of acquiring the piece of land that he and his team found ideally suited for carrying out the electrojet research, for the place is populated by fishing folks. There was also an ancient prayer house within the area: St. Mary Magdalene Church. The political system being what it was, the Kerala government expressed its inability to allocate the said land for the project.

Sarabhai, being what he was, did not give it up. He, along with his team went to Rev. Father Peter Bernard Pereria and obviously explained him how important it is for the nation, for the cause of very science to establish the proposed research station in that very premises, while promising to build within a year near the sea coast alternative facilities to the existing. Listening to Sarabhai, Rev. Father asked him to come to church on Sunday morning. Narrating the event, Dr. Abdul Kalam8 said that the Bishop, explaining the scientist’s work and his request for the abode of the fisher folk, abode of the Rev. Father and even the abode of the God to carry out a great scientific mission, asked them, “Dear children, can we give our and our God’s abode?” As Kalam shared, after a total silence, everyone stood up and said in chorus, “Amen”.

Thus the church became the design and assembly center for rockets of the initial Indian space program, while Bishop’s residence became working space for the scientists. It is the perseverance and innovative approach of Sarabhai that ultimately led to the establishment of Thumba TERLS at the very place where the science wanted it to be.

Later, convinced of the need to develop indigenous competence in space technology to realize the immense benefits likely to accrue from space research in the fields of communication, education and management of natural resources, Sarabhai established the Space Science and Technology Center in Thumba, which after the sudden demise of Sarabhai, rechristened as Vikram Sarabhai Space Center that ultimately gave the nation its launch vehicles that carried India’s flag into the Mars orbit even.

4.1.2 Sarabhai, a Visonary Leader

Peter Drucker (2004) commented that “nothing may seem simple or more obvious than to know what company’s business is.” He goes on to say: ‘What is our business?’ is almost always a difficult question and the right answer is usually anything but obvious. For, according to him, it is to be answered only by looking at the business from the outside, from the point of view of the customer and the market.

And in the case of ISRO, it is to be defined from the point of view of taxpaying citizen and the nation. That’s what Sarabhai exactly did: He drafted a shining vision for ISRO: “A positive approach out of our predicament lies in finding solutions where the particular disadvantage of developing nations, which is that they have little to build on, is made an asset rather than a liability. It is necessary for them to develop competence in advanced technologies and to deploy them for the solution of their own particular problems, not for prestige, but based on sound technical and economic evaluation involving commitment of real resources.” He then so earnestly and meaningfully institutionalized it that it was and is fully shared by the successive leaders and their followers too. For, “it is a vision meant for enabling India to leapfrog into the future through the adoption of appropriate technologies”, said Dr. U R Rao, the former Chairman of ISRO. It is no wonder if his vision continues to be the guiding light of our space program even today.

4.1.3. The Ardent Institute Builder

His craving to extend the benefits of science to all aspects of socioeconomic development of India made him an ace institute builder: he was instrumental in nurturing 30 institutions — both in public and private sectors. Soon after his returning from Cambridge with PhD and at a very young age of 27 years, he had established the PRL in November 1947 in Ahmedabad with the donations collected from his parents, industrialists and other philanthropists. With K R Ramanathan as the founder director of PRL and small group of young research students like Rao and others, Sarabhai built up PRL into an outstanding institution dedicated to fundamental research in cosmic rays, aeronomy and space sciences. Under his visionary stewardship, PRL has indeed become a cradle of India’s space program.

In 1963, he formed the Group for the Improvement of Science Education (GISE) in the same institution, which later became a part of the Nehru Foundation for Development. In 1966, he established the Community Science Center in Ahmedabad with an objective to create interest in science and to promote experimentation among students, teachers, and the public.

He had also established Ahmedabad Textile Industry Research Association (ATIRA) at Ahmedabad to function as a think tank for the development of textile industry under his guidance. He had also established Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, to make efficient managers available for India to run its businesses. Along with his wife, he established Darpan Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad.

In spite of his astonishing diversity of interests, he could ensure success of each institution that he had established with consistency in his approach that involved usage of “scientific methods, sound financial planning and a clear nationalistic purpose.”

4.1.4 Leader with a Knack to Pick Right People and Mentor Them into Leaders

If India has demonstrated indigenous capability in making low-cost satellites, of successfully launching its own Moon probe — Chandrayaan and Mars Mangalyaan, the credit certainly goes to the foundation laid by Vikram Sarabhai. Focusing on strengths and strengths alone, he chose a passionate team9 — A P J Kalam, E V Chitnis, Vasant Gowarikar, Pramod Kale, U R Rao, K Kasturirangan and other pioneers — and nurtured it assiduously to carry forward his vision even in his absence.

For instance, Rao, on returning from the US and joining PRL made himself busy in carrying out his space science activities, Sarabhai, convinced of Rao’s immense potential, requested him to prepare a blueprint for the development of satellite technology and its applications. Once it was made ready, Sarabhai convinced a reluctant Rao — the only person then having working experience on spacecraft systems at NASA — to take charge and shape the Indian satellite program. In 1972, the reluctant Rao thus assumed the responsibility of satellite design center and the rest is history: he designed, fabricated and launched over 15 satellites besides becoming the Chairman of ISRO in 1984.

Sarabhai could find time even to interview student seeking admission into PhD at PRL, for he wants to pick a student with right attitude for research. Here, it is worth recalling how Dr. K Kasturirangan, the former Chairman of ISRO, turned away from astrophysics to space for it reveals how Sarabhai motivated and inspired youngsters, of course, with right set of skills and attitude to work in space program that he was heading.

Obtaining his PhD, as Kasturirangan was planning to go abroad in search of greener pastures, Sarabhai called him enquiring about his plans. Hearing his plans, Sarabhai reminded him what he told Kasturirangan six years back — while interviewing him for PhD admission — that India is going to be a promising experience in terms of its space programs and that there are lot of vacant positions for youngsters with relevant experience like him. According to Kasturirangan, Sarabhai motivated him, inspired him considerably and gave me so much of confidence that he can work and succeed here and that he really does not have to look for greener pastures abroad.

When Kasturirangan posed the question that being basically a physicist and not an engineer how could he work in space program that involves a set of engineering techniques, to quote Kasturirangan,10 Sarabhai seemed to have “allayed all my [his] doubts listing out various tasks in a space program which requires knowledge of several areas and disciplines and pointing out that I am [he is] uniquely placed than any engineer because I [he has] have knowledge of end-to-end systems and an understanding of all the elements of the system. He also said the best people who have built satellite systems across the world, particularly in America for example, like Fred Singer or John Simpson, were all physicists. He persuasively argued so much on that aspect that I myself got excited that I should work in space.” Obviously, Kasturirangan got excited that he should work in space sciences and accordingly when he joined the program, Sarabhai placed him under “one of his illustrious students, Rao to work on the project meant for building Aryabhata. Thus, Sarabhai mentored a young physicist — indeed a future Chairman of ISRO.

In a similar vein, he handpicked the young Kalam in the early 1960s to get trained at NASA.11 It is his NASA training that facilitated the first sounding rocket launch from TERLS in 1963. In fact, that is only the beginning of his long journey to become a “missile man”.

4.1.5 Sarabhai, the Scientist

Returning from Cambridge with PhD for his thesis on “Cosmic ray Investigations in Tropical Latitudes”, Sarabhai, setting up a number of cosmic ray telescopes at different places in India, carried out along with his students, extensive studies of the day to day changes of cosmic ray intensity, which provided the instantaneous snapshot of the highly varying electromagnetic state of the interplanetary space.

Later realizing the importance of the changing magnetic field irregularities on the Sun and their effect on the interplanetary space, Sarabhai, setting up a giant meson monitor at Chacaltaya, Bolivia, at a height of about 5340 m above sea level in collaboration with MIT, studied very short period variations of 1-30 cycles per hour in the cosmic ray intensity. Based on these observations, he and his team established a complete correspondence in spectral changes in interplanetary space, magnetosphere and in cosmic rays measured on Earth. He had also worked out the implications of the non-uniform solar wind, particularly as the fast plasma overtakes the preceding solar plasma creating shock transitions and turbulent conditions. Looking at the effect of such shock transitions on cosmic ray intensity, Sarabhai proposed a new mechanism for explaining 27-day recurrent effects and the so-called large Forbush decreases of cosmic ray intensity observed in space and on the ground.

Later, Sarabhai’s interest shifted to the study of fluctuations in the geomagnetic field and their origin. Using the data from the precise measurements of the horizontal component of the geomagnetic field (H) from several low latitude observatories across the world, Sarabhai and his group studied the diurnal changes in H. Based on these studies, they interpreted that a considerable part of the changes in H is due to the changes in the current system at the magnetopause and in the magnetotail, induced by the changes in the interplanetary solar wind plasma.

The extraordinary pace of research carried out by Sarabhai and his colleagues made PRL an outstanding school of cosmic ray scientists, besides achieving international recognition. What is more important to notice here is: PRL nurtured by Sarabhai became an unique institution for carrying out space science research contributing its own might for the successes of later ISRO.

Continued to Next Page


More by :  Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty

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