Tag Archives: space programme

Famed rocket engine designer Nambi Narayanan

Tapan Misra

Poor is the nation that has no heroes, but poorer still is the nation that, having heroes, fails to remember and honour them – Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman Republican senator of 1st century BC, statesman, philosopher, author. He was beheaded on the orders of Mark Anthony.

The country redeemed herself of guilt, to some extent, quarter of century after destruction of the bright career of famed rocket engine designer, Shri S Nambi Narayanan. He was falsely accused of betraying our country in the infamous ISRO spy scandal of 1994. He was awarded Padmabhushan very recently, he was given paltry compensation by Judiciary and now a biopic, “Rocketry : The Nambi Effect” on his ordeals and triumphs, is going to be released shortly, may be by second week of May.

A scientist, who lost all the reputations he assiduously built over three decades, in a few days, because of false accusation of passing on sensitive information to forign spies. I am sure, it was the handiwork of foreign agents, in cahoots with certain elements of state and central administration and police and undoubtedly aided by some of his close acquaintances. He fought a lonely battle over a quarter of a century, to uphold his innocence in public eyes, to get himself exonerated, to get his tarnished patriotism vindicated.

I remember, in early nineties, I used to visit VSSC quite often. I have seen the public anger at the ISRO spy scandal, given prominence with salacious reporting on the first pages of vernacular and national dailies at that time, month after month. In 1994, once my office car barely missed stone pelting by irate crowds on my way from Thiruvananthapuram airport to VSSC. People were angry at the ISROites, assuming all of them to be traitors.

He was the father of Vikas engine, still the workhorse liquid engine of PSLV and GSLV. Unfortunately we could not improve upon it till now. When he was dragged into the spy scandal, he was leading the development of cryo engine. I discretely enquired about him. From grassroots to top people, every one concurred about his seminal contributions and him, being definitely with leadership quality suitable for future Chairmanship. In later dates, when my experience matured about inner workings of ISRO, in the fag end of my career, I understood his twin qualities: exemplary leadership and very very significant contribution to indigenising critical space technologies, became his own nemesis. He became target of foreign agents and their cohorts hiding in our midst. After all, the best way to weaken a scientific organisation is to eliminate inspiring leaders, with proven track record of building new things in the country itself

He was sent to police custody, subjected to inhuman torture for months to extract confession. I am sure, senior police officers would have enrolled themselves in the stratagem. The worst part was the indifference of his colleagues and bosses to his predicament. From my experience I know, when you badly need the support of your colleagues and bosses, including the top man, they will be the first to desert you, leaving you to fend for yourself. Instead of helping, they have perfected the art of ostracising you by whisper campaign and punishing those souls who dare come to your support. Unfortunately, in organisations like ours, we have concentrated on brains without bothering about whether it is supported by erect spines or not. Our approach has led to leadership deficiency when we need them the most.

I shudder at the thought of the infamy and calumny, he and his family were subjected to, at being branded as traitor. It is difficult to maintain sanity to fight for yourself under these circumstances.

Worst part of his situation was being drawn into vortex of circulation war, between two leading vernacular dailies and tug of war in internecine fight of ruling dispensation.

Further, the very long fight, he would have fought through legal labyrinth, would have been astonishingly inhuman, specially for a person with meagre pension to boast of and advancing age. The politicians and rulers would have been busy to protect the perpetrators of the crime, in order to save their own skins. In our country, you will find that the system does not stand beside the wronged but stand solidly behind the perpetrators. You start cursing yourself, why you at all stayed back from moving to greener pastures and green cards, just after you passed out starry eyed from colleges. However, even in the midst of all around hostility, you can spot a few helping souls here and there. They reinstill your belief in humanity.

I always have a great respect for Shri Nambinarayanan Sir. Not just because he was patriotic, not just because he made path breaking contributions to ISRO, not just because he is one of the stalwarts who made ISRO what it is, but because he never lost his equanimity even in the face of tremendous ordeals he was forced into, for no fault of his own. He fought it, fought it alone, fought it determinedly against all odds, he fought the lonely battle with dignity. I get inspiration from him to fight for what is right, without losing sanity. A real tiger among a litany of paper tigers.

Tapan Misra is a distinguished scientist. He has been Director Space Application Centre and Advisor in the Department of Space. He has many pioneering achievements to his credit and his contribution to India’s Space Programme and ISRO is second to none.

Keep On Moving, Keep On Moving

Newsroom24x7 Network

Today we celebrate the Engineers’ Day in India – it is the day to honour and cherish the memory of Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, who was popular as Sir MV. He was a civil engineer and Diwan of the erstwhile Mysore State from 1912 to 1919. He received India’s highest honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 1955. Newsroom24x7 is marking this day by saluting Tapan Misra, the renowned distinguished scientist who has contributed immensely to India’s space programme. He would have been a huge asset for the nation and coming generations if he had headed the country’s space administration but destiny has something else in store for him, he loves his status as guru for the young minds and future scientists. Tapan is a great motivator, leader of men, innovator, inventor, scientist par excellence, visionary and an ideal teacher. We are reproducing below a piece from his facebook wall.

“चरैवेति चरैवेति”

“Charaiveti, Charaiveti” – Keep On Moving, Keep On Moving

Tapan Misra

Tapan Misra with Sunita Williams, Indian born Space Shuttle astronaut in a reception by Indian Ambassador in US in July 2012

I reached a point in scientific career, where feathers on our hats, do not mean much. However, I am delighted to share my recent patent which makes me feel proud. All my other patents concern microwave and sensor system technology and related signal processing methods and algorithms. But this patent is on hyperspectral data compression and representation, quite alien to my expertise.

Tapan Misra with NASA Administrator, acclaimed astronaut and former Space Shuttle Commander, Charles Bolden, who visited SAC in 2013 to specifically visit the lab where RISAT could be built at so much economical cost under leadership of Tapan Misra

Of late, I realised the biggest bottleneck in utilising hyperspectral imaging data is the data cube representation in X, Y and wavelength axes. For common users, the very sight of cube is enough to kill any interest. Our algorithm has two variants. The first one concerns significant data compression which can be implemented on board with little loss in data. This make high resolution, wide swath imaging quite feasible, from data transmission point of view. Other variant is more attractive to me, which allows single pixel classification, enabling representation of the potential of hyperspectral data in 2D format, a more understandable representation. My co inventor Litu did lot of analysis of performance of the algorithm over large datasets, enabling refinement with maturity of our understanding.

This algorithm can be tweaked for various applications with data series, like stock market variation over time, time series of weather data and many more things.

What mattered was that this work I indulged in at a particular low point of my career where management decisions were at variance with my technical contributions and merit.

Still, being seasoned administrator, I knew that emotional pain of any unfortunate decision is immediate, but merit of decision can only be understood with passage of time. My apprehension about rightness of the said decision came out correct with passage of time.

When many youngsters used to confront me about undesirability of the said situation, I used to console them that my experience says that technical contributions should not be held prisoner to certain unfortunate decisions or happenings, born out of certain misgivings either personal or professional or ignorance or jealousy or mix of any combination of all these factors. In those situations I get satisfaction that I must have done something really good to the people or organisation to deserve this in return.

Unfortunately in our scientific institutions, mortality of brain hits quite early, in late forties or early fifties. In the same period, gravitational attraction to chairs, cushioned or not, increases in same proportion. More brain deficient you are, more is your craving for chair. This craving turns many big men in science to behave ludicrously and some times viciously. As they cease to contribute intellectually, only achievement they long, is to occupy a chair at any cost. At the end of the day you are respected for your contributions rather than the number of chairs you warmed. The only way out of this vicious circle, to be alive mentally, is to keep contributing intellectually, as exemplified in the great aphorism of Aitareya Brahmana :

“चरैवेति चरैवेति” (“Charaiveti, Charaiveti” – Keep On Moving, Keep On Moving)

Tapan Misra is a distinguished scientist with Department of Space and a trailblazer, who is respected globally for his immense contribution to India’s space programme.

“Space Prorgramme: Private Sector participation will check talented space scientists from moving out of India”

Newsroom24x7 Network

Dr Jitendra Singh
  • Private Sector participation will enhance the capacity and resources of our space missions
  • India’s first human space mission “Gaganyaan” will not be affected by COVID pandemic
  • Chandrayaan-3 Lunar mission is planned for launch next year

New Delhi: Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances, Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh has emphasised that besides enhancing the capacity and resources of our space missions, increased participation of private players in India’s Space Programme will enhance the capacity and resources of our space missions and discourage brain drain of talented space scientists and experts who were moving out of India in search of a break.


The Minister also reiterated that the launch of India’s first human space mission “Gaganyaan” will not be affected by COVID pandemic and preparation are carrying on in the right direction.

Dr Singh said that even though because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the training of four Indian astronauts in Russia had to be halted, yet the opinion of Chairman, ISRO, and the scientific team is that there had been kept a “cushion” both in the training programme and launch deadline.The training of astronauts has now been resumedand the launch is scheduled to take place as planned, before the 75th anniversary of India’s independence in 2022.

A regulatory body called “Indian National Space Promotion & Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe)” is to be established. This will help provide a level playing field to private players and encourage their participation, the Minister said.

About Chandrayaan-3 Lunar mission, Dr Singh said, it is planned for launch next year. This mission will involve a lander, rover and a propulsion system to carry the modules to move but it would not have orbiter as the previous orbiter is fully operational, he added.

We have arrived – naysayers excuse us

Tapan Misra

The author (left) at his alma mater, Ramakrishna Mission High School, on Teacher’s Day in 2019

We are our own hindrances

In 1972, I was a student of class five in Shibnath High School, on the banks of river Hoogly in the northern outskirts of Kolkata. Tumultuous time in Bengal – Naxalite movement was in peak. Starry eyed, idealistic young people were angry with everything. Staccato of guns, leftovers of Bangladesh War in 1971, would pierce through stillness of night for no reason. Occasional deaths of young people in gun battles used to remove for ever, one or two smiling, argumentative faces from animated discussions in the road corners. All the walls of the classes were scribbled with quotes from Mao Zedong and Lin Biao. The quotes conveyed a meaningless gravity to young minds. No classes were there. Except one teacher, an old man, Baidyanath Babu daring to defy all the surrounding madness. He was religious in taking maths classes for a handful of students like me, who were bored without schools and roaming around nook and corners of locality, chasing pigeons, wheeling a defunct, rickety cycle tyre, playing card games with cards made from used cigarette packets.

In December 1972, my sister forced me to take entrance examination for class six in Ramakrishna Mission High School in our locality. It had day scholars, boarders and a sizeable orphans as students. I just could not make head or tail of Bengali and English question papers. Too tough for a student who almost missed schooling that year. To my surprise, I got selected. Headmaster Samir Maharaj, who is no more, called my father and told him that his ward was selected for scoring full marks in math paper, though I scored neat zeroes in language papers. When I look back, my selection carried very important message which all educationists and parents must grasp : I was selected for what I was, not for what I should have been.

From subsequent experiences for over three decades, I feel there are two major issues in our present day culture which are preventing us to realise our own potentials.

A. Parental pressure is degenerating our children

There lies folly of our education and parental culture. Parents want to force children to live the parents’ own dreams instead of children’s. They want to dictate what the children should opt for. Parents and teachers seem to know everything about the children, forgetting that children are going to live and adjust to a world which will probably be completely different from what their parents and teachers are experiencing. They confuse coaching classes with schooling. Scoring in IIT or engineering entrance examination is regarded as the highest achievement. There is a hierarchy of subjects which are assumed important to shine in life. Medical, Engineering, Science, Commerce, Humanities in the descending orders of preference. Children are constantly bombarded in prestigious colleges and homes – ultimate aim in life is to live abroad. You are taught and conditioned to resent yourself, apolegetic of India and Indianness. We are producing a set of of students, who are not proud of themselves. They are made to feel that they are lesser mortals.

I have been Chairing ISRO’s interview board for long. We have two steps process, we screen first through written examination. Then final selection is based on viva voce. We observed that the typical screening ratio in written examination of boys to girls is 70:30, commensurate with existing gender ratios in engineering. Surprise sprang up in viva voce. Almost 50% of girls were selected vis-a-vis boys to the tune of 30 to 35%. This reversal puzzled us.

When I analysed, I could understand that Indian parents don’t spend much on daughters, don’t send them to expensive coaching centres. Generally they are sent to nearby, not so known, colleges to reduce expenditure. Parents want their sons to be successful at any cost, sending them to costly tuition centres, faraway expensive colleges. In essence boys lose touch of their originality whereas girls retain them as they have no compulsion to lose them. So when faced with questions to test original thought process in our viva voce, girls fared better.

I had another observation. I found boys want to opt for catchy and easy option of work preference like VLSI, programming etc. Whereas tedious and difficult jobs like RF circuit and MMIC design have no takers. Since girls do not protest much, these jobs were forced on them. I must confess that girls executed RF designs in stellar fashion. In my time, SAC had the largest corpus of own MMIC design in India, ranging from L-band to milli metre wave bands. It gives me pride that 80% of them are designed by girls.

Learning is more important than education. Excessive parental attention ruins originality. The above examples show a relaxed education gives better learning and gives courage to take risk as well as succeed.

B. Prevalence of lack of self confidence

This psychological affliction of lack of self confidence has spread to industry, labs, universities. In general there is a feeling that we can only repeat anything what has been done abroad. There is always a disbelief that we can do on our own for the first time. We ourselves have less conviction when we oft repeat that we are second to none.

During Chandrayan 2 time frame, we had difficulty of getting the optical and infra red spectrometer. The imported one had poorer performance by a factor of 2. ISRO never had any history of design of spectrometer optics. All famed designers were not ready to take the risk, as odds against success were very high. I called a meeting of all the designers and I just asked who of them want to take a career risk by attempting spectrometer optics design. One lady raised her hand. I made her leader. Seeing her, a few more volunteered, raising their hands and fingers to different extents. I made them team members. Rest is history. We flew Made in India spectrometer in Chandrayan 2, built at very minimal fraction of import cost.

In India everybody forgot the name of R M Vasagam and Leo Lesrado, makers of satellite and SATCOM payload of our first communication satellite, APPLE in 1981. We built its apogee boost motor, first time in Asia. Surprisingly we did not build upon them. We went for importing 4 satellites of INSAT 1 series, of which one only worked reasonably. I still get a feeling that had we shown our courage to build upon our own contribution, we would have advanced our communication programme by a decade.

Similarly with our Radar imaging programme. In our country, Radar imaging is more important than optical imaging because of widespread cloud, smog and dust coverage. But we arrived in space based Radar imaging scene three decades late. Reason was simple, it was difficult to convince who mattered thar imaging radar can be built by ourselves, they can be built in India, at much cheaper a cost and there is no need to look for a “Suitable Boy”. I, being in the ring, always had the pressure of proving ourselves, lest all our dreams get shelved.

We introduced two new imaging modes in RISAT : Hybrid polarimetry and extra long sliding spotlight imaging mode for very high resolution imaging. Just because none of the SARs in international arena, had these features, I had to personally convince people umpteen times that these modes are not flukes, but scientifically feasible. I am happy to state that we set the standards and these features are adopted by all the current and future soaceborne SAR systems.

We built India’s first High Throughput Satellite, HTS, when nobody believed designers. I fact we were ready for launch when wise people were still on the lookout of imported counterpart, at a whooping cost. This caused piquant situation. GSAT 11 was launched, albeit with lot of drama and personal cost, which I ignored as nation is larger than individual egos.

Many people, including those who built India’s space programme, expressed doubt on my posts(**) whether we are imagining too much that our space programme can be more democratic. Whether we have engineers in the country who can dare tread uncharted path. Can they bring the magic of ISRO widespread? I believe, if we are conscious of our limitations, we are in a better position to circumvent it on our way to success. Let us shed our own inhibitions. It is high time to thump on the table, “Yes we have arrived. Naysayers, kindly excuse us.”

1. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10218220635653855&id=1428772703

  1. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10218269300350442&id=1428772703
  2. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10218387671149638&id=1428772703)

The author, Tapan Misra, is a distinguished scientist. At present he is Advisor in the Department of Space, Government of India. Earlier he was Director Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad.