There are certain temptations in life that are difficult to refuse, even in your retired avatar. One such was a request from Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Dr. S Unnikrishnan Nair, to talk to ISROites in VSSC on 8 June, about my perspective on the emerging metamorphosis of Space Science to Space Industry in India. Though I was slightly skeptical of bringing coal to New Castle, I did not miss the opportunity of savouring the smells and verdant environs of Mathura of ISRO.
I am known for articulating my frank opinion on subjects close to my heart. In my whole working life, there was no concept of lock and key in my office room! In our quest for the Make in India product, we are building the body but importing the brain, making us vulnerable to changes in complex equations of global politics and diplomacy as well as sudden upheavals with the appearance of disruptive technology and ideas. ISRO is only one of the few industries that can be counted by fingers. It not only builds the body but gives it a desi brain and Indian consciousness. In other words, ISRO offers truly Made in India products and technology. However, our economy needs not one ISRO but many ISROs to give a push to the culture of innovation and excellence. Hopefully, they will emerge from the sudden spurt of start-ups in many fields. Some are imported ones with Indian attire, some are also-ran but a few are being built on innovative ideas, which will probably blossom into behemoths on a future date.
I have expressed my opinions about the impending birth of INSPACe on 10 June in the august presence of the Honourable Prime Minister. I wish we could have waited for the germination of innovative space start-ups to take root in starry eyes before bringing in the bureaucracy of newer kind and their playful actions in the garb of policy making and streamlining. I always hold the view that regimentation is the antithesis of innovation.
Though I am not alone in expressing this view, in democracy, saner advice or opinions are more often than not get drowned by the clamour of the majority. Maybe we are guided by our national obsession of scouting for private tuition even before the child is born.
With a short visit to the facilities, I could sense that VSSC has significantly recovered from the loss of direction with the able leadership of Dr. Somnath and his successor Dr. Unnikrishnan.
Unnikrishnan is a deviant among technocrats, who can hold forth in philosophy and literature while still immersed in technology. He is the original Gaganyan man, picked up by Dr. G Madhavan Nair. He laid the foundation stone of the Gaganyan programme with the successful test of pad abort test of life-saving escape capsule of cosmonauts, way back in July 2018.
I fervently wish that both Dr. Somnath and Dr. Unnikrishnan should channelise the renewed vigour of ISROites to launch Gaganyan by next year. I have a dog sense that only ISRO can achieve any target, they set forth upon themselves.
I am also excited about the impending unmanned landing experiment of the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV). ISRO needs to only put a turbojet in pusher configuration to convert this vehicle to a high altitude drone. The country needs these drones badly.
RLV will open up a new vista of unmanned, autonomous vehicle technology with much larger consequences.
The author, Tapan Misra, is a distinguished scientist. He was Director Space Applications Centre and is recognised globally as father of Indian SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radars)