We are republishing this article first published by Newsroom24x7 on 16 December 2020 to salute and honour Distinguished Scientist Tapan Misra for the new innings he is starting Friday, 29 January 2021 on retirement from Department of Space, Government of India, after devoting most part of his life to India’s Space Programme. Tapan is a distinguished scientist and a living legend. He was the senior-most and a globally acclaimed scientist, who could have headed ISRO, if the present Chairman had not been given prolonged extension of service. Those who are aware of Tapan Misra’s selfless service, his trailblazing role as a mentor of young engineers and scientists and a team leader, and most importantly the larger role he has played for the benefit of humankind through the advancement of science, know that he is above any award that mortals have the power to confer on others. – Editorial
N S Pillai, one of the doyens of radar technology in India, initiated the SAR activity in ISRO. He shaped Tapan Misra with his imagination and inspiration. On Misra’s superannuation on 29 January, he wrote him a message Click to read
Reproduced below is the soul stirring piece, a first person account by Distinguished scientist Tapan Misra, former Advisor ISRO, Department of Space and ex-Director Space Application Centre first published by Newsroom 24×7 on 16 December 2020 … it should go a long way in motivating and awakening the sensibilities of every citizen.
India had retaliated to the Uri terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir, by conducting a successful surgical commando strike and hitting terrorist launch pads across the Line of Control (LoC) on 28 September 2016. The commando strike took Pakistanis by surprise. They were under the impression that the regions are almost perennially covered by clouds, hardly visible by satellites and drones, carrying optical cameras. They underestimated cloud penetrating capability of India’s SAR satellite C-Band RISAT-1. India’s arsenal of SAR satellites came into aiding India’s meticulous planning and execution of surprise commando strike and enable our brave soldiers to inflict deadly damages to men and machines of Pakistan’s terrorist infrastructure. To have a fair idea about what went into producing RISAT just read on!
PROUD TO BE FOOLISH
I was quite engrossed in typing some SAR related derivations ab initio into a Word file. I was taken aback by an innocuous enquiry from the canteen staff, who brings me the cuppa that cheers, at the interval I like to have. Whenever he serves me tea, he also takes that opportunity to get clarifications on certain important news items on that day. But that day he asked, “Sir, you are going to retire next month and you are still working?” He confided – he serves tea to many senior people and has seen all of them to meticulously prepare for after-career-life, many months before superannuation. He finds me an odd one. I told him, “To be honest, I have never worked. I just pursued my hobby of learning new ideas and creating new instruments and Government was gracious enough to pay me for my hobby.”
People have always criticized me for not being clever enough, even the people close to me and my well wishers. Not clever enough to safeguard my career and becoming successful in chasing the mirage of future. Just a couple of years back, when well publicized change in my career graph happened, I was chided by many well wishers – I am unnecessarily trying to bring benefit to my country at the cost of my career. I should have made small compromises, even if it called for the country to lose a bit. Who cares for a bit of squandering of public money, paid through the nose by hardworking country men? I should have known that people will be remembered for career, awards, rewards, not for all those useless principles. So called doing-what-is-right-for-country things could have waited.
I must confess that I never found any appropriate answer to all those chidings. I only sheepishly muttered that if at all, they should blame my schooling in Ramakrishna Mission and my first hand experience of faceless people living hand to mouth. Somebody had to stand up. I decided to stand up, irrespective of consequences.
When I left IIT KGP to join the same engineering branch at JU, well wishers cautioned that I had unnecessarily thrown away bright future. After engineering , I left admission in school of Automation of IISc and joined ISRO, not so famous in those days and one of the most unattractive playmasters. Again those, who had hearts pining at my foolishness, lamented that I again threw away a great future in very prestigious American university.
My luck in ISRO was not with me. I took up a job of working in a small team trying to build an imaging radar. I still recollect when my colleague refused to give me access to only Motorola emulator available in SAC , in anger I wire wrapped myself almost 10,000 pins to build a scrolling display, complete with ring memory and Motorola DMA chip 6845 compatible interface, built completely with counter, shift register, flip flop and SRAM chips. Everybody used to laugh at my foolishness. With half the effort , I could have managed to get into prestigious INSAT or IRS or Data Product teams and could ensure a smoother career. Instead, I was struggling with a hopeless team, trying to whip up a half dead horse. I must say our first imaging radar SLAR ( Side Looking Airborne Radar) was a successful contribution as the first such radar, built in India.
I played a prominent role in building the Airborne SAR which could fetch India the status of world’s fifth country to achieve the feat. Just before we were going to integrate the SAR with the aircraft, I was given a small office order, banning me out of the team. Possibility of big credit attracted a big team without much of a contribution, to the lure of a low hanging fruit. It was another matter that ASAR could not be made to work for five months in the scorching heat of Ahmedabad summer. Precisely, it burnt up 52 times. All clever people deserted and I foolishly moved to make it work and with two sorties, we could make it image. Well wishers said that I should not have jumped to rescue the SAR system, should have allowed my friends to get exposed. But how can I tell people that those inert pieces of hardware had all my sweats and my many sleepless nights woven into? How could I abandone the precious sensor, so dear to me and so useful for our mostly cloud covered country?
I was a microwave man. But those responsible for producing images were not so much successful. Luck was a strong governing factor to get those rare SAR images. I still remember those taunting words – give us 1 GB of good data and we will give you a good image.
I got so frustrated that I borrowed from library, a copy of text book on ANSI C by Dennis Ritchie, learnt the language for a month. Next I developed probably the best SAR processor with motion estimation by GPS aiding, motion compensation and artificial antenna stabilisation in software. It brought me a number of patents. Those responsible for managing SAC, blamed me for sticking my neck out and doing a job which I was not supposed to do. Though the ASAR got fantastic images, my irresponsible initiatives have annoyed teams, cocooned in compartments, though in reality they all raised their hands long back. Needless to say, I really did not understand what crime I committed.
My life in ISRO was a steady procession of similar foolishness. May be a complete recital will call for a much larger canvas. But I enjoyed every moment. I never abandoned my hobby – creating something new and useful too. To the youngsters, I can vouch, you enjoy your creative self best, which you cannot in any other way.