Chandrayaan-2 and ISRO: Let’s not divert attention
A day after newsroom24x7 had published a news, based on a facebook post by Distinguished Scientist Tapan Misra, with the title “Space Technology is not “Rocket Science”, another news portal – The Wire – did a piece picking from the same post with the heading “Senior ISRO Scientist Criticises Sivan’s Approach After Moon Mission Setback”.
The Wire piece goes off on a tangent and sums up a lot without taking into perspective the issues raised by the distinguished scientist. At the core of his facebook post is the brilliant manner in which Misra has defined leadership. On reading the piece, one felt that it should be part of the course content of the curriculum in all schools and also institutions of higher learning like the IITs, IIMs, LBSAA, Harvard and Cambridge…It should be taught everywhere. One even went on to underscore the importance of what Misra had written on facebook at a seminar on Sustainable Development Goals and Good Governance organised by Indian Institute of Public Adminitration at the Academy of Administration in Bhopal this past Saturday, and one had read out an excerpt from this write-up to illustrate the point.
I quote: “Leadership determines the backbone of an institution. All successful institutions have one thing in common: they choose a leader who built something new, chose an untrodden path, and built a new one. You become a complete leader when you pass through the stages of being ignored and ridiculed for your new ideas, grudgingly accepted when you prove your point by adding value to your institution and society at large and finally admired for what you built and what you are.
Leaders inspire, they do not manage. When you see a sudden spurt in emphasis on adhering to rules, sudden increase in paper work, frequent meetings, unwinding discussions, you surely know that leadership is becoming rare material in your institution. Institutions do not evolve with time when they stop innovating. Ultimately, they become living fossil and a footnote in history.”
Misra also talks of “culture and ethics” and how they are integral part of any successful organisation or institution. On every count, he is unimpeachable. His commentary on spacecafts and rocket science, based on a lifetime of experience as a scientist, who has contributed immensely to space research and ISRO, is also above board.
Misra has the credentials and the track record to say what he has pointed out just as the Chairman-cum-Managing Director of Air India Ashwani Lohani. A few days ago, the CMD of the national carrier had stated through a facebook post: “Despite good operational performance the sad state of affairs due to legacy issues at Air India are a classic reflection of what sustained government ownership shall do to a commercial enterprise in the service sector in India.” In another post, Lohani further said: “Why is it that in the Indian public sector environment, the management invariably ends up blaming the subordinates whereas the blame generally needs to be affixed otherwise?” In both cases, neither Misra nor Lohani are taking potshots at anyone. Obviously they are concerned about ensuring best practices when it comes to running prime organisations that are directly connected with the larger public cause and progress and identity of the nation.
We often use the phrase,”it’s no use crying over spilt milk,” which means – getting upset over something going wrong or something that has already happened, would not alter the situation or fix it. It is in this spirit that Misra also summed up his facebook post by stating “no point in crying when things go wrong’.
What Misra wrote on facebook is a reflection of what he perceives as good leadership and what’s essential in terms of cultural values that should be integrated, ingrained and made integral part of any organisation. The wise may debate Misra’s approach for meeting the goals but would not question his intent if they were to take an objective, pragmatic, judicious and unattached view of the whole gamut of issues involved when it comes to the State of affairs in ISRO.
One should desist from looking at things through the key-hole. With regard to ISRO, besides the faultlines [ISRO, Chandrayaan-2 & need to plug loopholes] a case in point is also the huge Antrix-Devas scam and the CBI chargsheet in this matter. Then there was this recent process of offering Ka-band services for broadband beams covering the Indian mainland without auction. These are only a couple of few examples to illustrate the point.
The Chadrayaan-2 fiasco, which ISRO Chairman K Sivan chooses to declare as 98 per cent success, has not come as a surprise. The Mission’s success would have been a giant leap and would have been a matter of national pride if Lander Vikram had completed the soft landing on Moon and thereby enabled the Rover to perform the pre-determined tests. At the end of the day, what we have is the Orbiter around the moon and circumstantial evidence pointing to the Lander crashing and disintegrating resulting in total disruption of signals that could not be restored.
Chandrayaan-2 was configured as a two module system comprising of an Orbiter Craft module (OC) and a Lander Craft module (LC) carrying the Rover developed by ISRO. Chandrayaan-1, India’s first mission to Moon, was launched successfully on October 22, 2008 from Sriharikota. The spacecraft was orbited around the Moon at a height of 100 km from the lunar surface for chemical, mineralogical and photo-geologic mapping of the Moon till August 2009. The capability to successfully send an orbiter around Moon was acheived by ISRO eleven years ago. This time, the main objective was to soft land the Lander and navigate the rover on moon surface for conducting tests. The ISRO Chairman is shouting from rooftop that the Chandrayaan-2 mission is 98 per cent successful, whereas in terms of the main objective, one doesn’t need rocket science to prove that it is a 100 per cent failure.
Sivan’s latest announcement that the human space flight will go in December 2021 after just 2 experimental flights of the GSLV Mk3 appears to be more an expression of his desire for extension. It is not a joke to man rate a launch vehicle. National pride could become a national tragedy. The Prime Minister may please exercise caution and order a national review by eminent external scientists and not by the usual yes men. Chandrayaan-2 has exposed chinks in the armour. ISRO has a situation where no bureaucrat worth his salt wishes to serve in it. The competent ones are repatriated or leave back to their cadres. Eminent scientists are sidelined lest they may hog the limelight. Godmen and seers are being invited and felicitated to create a favourable political climate. A small coterie of yes men and a terrified group of scientists who do not stand up to bullying is now the story of ISRO. Crores have been spent on beautifying the Chairman’s office, its headquarters and the garden. It’s time the PMO wakes up and does damage control.
Lalit Shastri is Editor-in-chief Newsroom24x7.com.