Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) Chairman K Radhakrishnan, who faced the country’s worst space disaster, will now go down the history as India’s Mars man.
Team Isro’s maiden success on the martian front comes three months before the Isro chief's retirement on December 31, 2014. A graduate from Kerala University and a PhD holder from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, he took over as Isro chairman on October 31, 2009.
A year later, sitting in the mission control room of Sriharikota launch pad, he watched in horror as the geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV-F06) with GSAT-5P satellite exploded in the air, minutes after the lift-off.
It was India’s biggest setback in space science that plunged the scientific community into gloom. That was not the only challenge Radhakrishnan faced. He was soon sucked in the Antrix-Devas scam controversy involving his predecessor G Madhavan Nair, who alleged Radhakrishnan’s hand behind his downfall. Soon, the Russians backed out of Chandrayaan-II project, leaving India to go alone on this ambitious mission that involves a lunar lander and rover.
The soft spoken Isro chief, who is also a trained Kathakali dancer and devotional singer, faced every challenge with determination and emerged victorious when the orbiter spacecraft was inserted into the Martian orbit on Wednesday morning.
The mission was so precise that the insertion date was publicly announced a year back.
Among those who worked tirelessly in the Mars team is Subbiah Arunan, a mechanical engineer who was the project director of Mars Orbiter Mission.
Arunan, who joined Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in 1984, is the son-in-law of Nambi Narayanan, the former Isro scientist who was framed in the Isro spy case but was later acquitted by the court.
Fond of James Bond movies, several times Arunan spent his night at the workplace, going home only for a bath and puja.
Rocket scientist V Adimurthy carried out the feasibility study for the Mars mission in 2011. But seeds of that work were sown way back in the 1970s, when he was asked by then Isro chief Satish Dhawan to carry out preliminary scientific studies on a possible Mars mission.
“I worked on the velocity requirement in the 1970s. But those were preliminary works. The Mars mission came to me in June, 2011 when more detailed studies were conducted,” Adimurthy, who retired from VSSC and joined Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram as dean of research, told Deccan Herald.
The man behind the Chandrayaan Mission, M Annadurai, was the programme director for the Mars mission and oversaw resource and manpower allocation besides solving last minute technical glitches. Isro scientific secretary V Koteswara Rao is another key individual.
The team leaders received support from close to 600 scientists and engineers, who braved all the odds in the last three years and worked on a shoe-string budget to bring the glory. I was never tense about the fate of the spacecraft as I have confidence on my team,” Radhakrishnan said.