Chandrayaan-2 and ISRO: Why lose the big picture and orchestrate a shabby controversy

Lalit Shastri

After Chandrayaan-2 failed to softland on Moon, a section of national media has created an unfair controversy by describing a well-intended post on social media by Distinguished Scientist Tapan Misra as a “veiled jibe” and “dig at ISRO Chairman Sivan’s leadership”

Times of India on Monday, 23 September published a story with the heading “Experts find Sivan’s ‘98% success’ remark laughable”.

It says:

The talking point on Sunday was a social media post by Tapan Misra, adviser to the ISRO Chairman, who took a dig at Sivan’s leadership without naming him.

Same day, The Week published another story titled:

Is former ISRO scientist’s Facebook post a veiled jibe at K. Sivan?

When contacted on Monday 23 September 2019, Tapan Misra said he had a tough time for the TOI report as journalists kept calling up. He told them when a person commits suicide by jumping off a tall building, he dies essentially due to Newton’s laws but one cannot send Newton to gallows for every such suicide.
Similarly, Tapan said his write up (on facebook) was essentially “management culture behind producing zero defect space hardware. If you violate this principle, you are committing suicide in delivering space hardware. Analysis of any such failure anywhere in the world will essentially be due to flouting some or all such management principles. And you cannot hold me responsible for every space scientist anywhere in the world for their failures.”

To drive home his point and obviously to wave off any orchestrated controversy, Misra has updated on 23 September 2019, his facebook post by adding at the end:

“This post is a partial abstract of a lecture on leadership and innovation sanskar, I delivered in many universities and institutions in India, like IIMA, IIT KGP, IITB, JU, Thermax Pune, NIT Shilchar etc. over last two years. My views on innovation environment for zero defect technology is well known. I have posted this piece with an eye on communicating with general people who are not conversant with this esoteric subject. Unfortunately, certain media interpreted these generalised observations as my comment on certain happenings in recent times. Even common English phrases were reinterpreted with certain incidents. It is not proper and ethical for anybody to present bits and pieces of this post selectively for their own interpretations. I request all not to repost pieces from this post. If any body wants to post, he or she should post in toto for better understanding of this purely academic post meant for general readers.”

Besides, Misra has responded to comments on his post, each praising him for the insight provided by him, by observing:

“I am not educated in management in structural ways. I have learnt the subject organically as I advanced in career. I have an advantage – I have been fortunate to enjoy confidence of people from all strata of the organisation, probably because of my ability to change my level and method of discourse according to the target audience. And when you connect with people, each of these individuals teaches you something which you could not have learnt in any other way. And my penchant of teaching, through story telling method helped me to connect with people. I learnt this dying art from teachers in Ramakrishna Mission. In fact both shri Ramkrishna and Swami Vivekananda were masters in this dying art. This art from has come from Shruti method of narrating Vedas by our ancient gurus. This art was used by Bhagawan Buddha extensively. Unfortunately our country is losing this expertise very fast, a great gift from our ancient civilisation. So more and more our teaching has become more and more pedagogy, churning out figures and facts, instead of stories touching our day to day experiences in our mundane lives.

First of all, this post was meant to remove the ghost of space technology, which unfortunately given abnormal weightage in people’s mind, leading to many misconceptions and misinterpretations. I only delved into certain management paradigms behind any highly reliable engineering execution. Specially what is understood by me. There may be some more which I may not have understood. All aspects of this paradigms may not be applicable to particular example. But some of them do fit.

As far as curriculum is concerned, it should concentrate on principles rather than examples only. Examples are illustrated

My intentions of this post was not meant to analyse a particular example or situation, but generalised management principle behind high reliable engineering, as understood by me. If we avoid uncalled for spin to this post, we will do better justice to science.”

Comments on Misra’s post:

“Institutions do not evolve with time as they stop innovating. Ultimately, they become living fossil, footnote in history”
Very true for most of the giant government research and development institutions.

Well articulated and brings lot of insight in technology, challenges and leadership.

Going through this post brought me to the conclusion that great scientists can be great writers too. This post is a literary masterpiece, which reminds me of Fyodor Dostoevsky.
An honest, fair (and therefore an unforgiving) assessment. Great…

I totally agree with your point of view. In India, research has become beurocratic science. The culture of boss has ruined science. Everybody want to be manager not scientist……

In my own profession I have always vouched for simplicity in the outer, user interfacing layer. That’s always my motto in solution design. The intricacies and complexities of the problem must not manifest themselves in the solution.

Thanks for writing this, Tapan. I am sharing it for the benefit of my daughter and all other FB friends

Well summarised. I have a request .. the entire failure analysis report of Vikram lunar landing should be made part of engineering curriculum by AICTE/UGC for undergrad and postgrad courses in mechanical, electrical, aerospace or even computer science and inter-disciplinary safety critical systems. This way we can add a billion thinking young minds

Excellent words sir..really inspiring…words relects ISRO culture n how to move ahead at times of difficulties..

Our faculty use to say that any component should be designed only after knowing the extreme conditions/conditions in which its failure is possible & based on that it should be constructed. So here knowing failure is the first key to success. It’s explained beautifully & in simple way.

Couldn’t agree more. But if principles are reinforced by real life examples the impact could be more.

Beautifully summarized Sir

Wonderful write up. As a quality professional I enjoyed most, especially bringing in the concept of ‘Sanskar’. Congratulations

A Wonderful writeup on the Philosophy of work in ISRO ! Thank you!

Nice & lucid write up ! Extremely value added information & thought provoking too especially your lessons on leadership with choice of words ! your suggestion for leadership is to inspire people instead of being bossy or imperious, has been well reasearched it seems ! These are imperatives for intellectual leadership! Lastly your education on rocket science & philosophy of ISRO has been so comprehensively dealt that even a lay man like me can decipher esp. what goes around ( account of events) before a rocket is finally placed on the launching pad ! wonderful ! please keep enlightening us !


One thought on “Chandrayaan-2 and ISRO: Why lose the big picture and orchestrate a shabby controversy

  1. Any democracy will have these discussions! One cant stop “Argumentative Indian(s)” 😀. Being a leader is to be able to ride through successes and failures. Generally people will have fixed views and its better for them to express them, particularly Ex-Some Body will always have view that they were better than the current one!


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