Tag Archives: Tapan Misra

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.

Distinguished Scientist who worked with devotion and contributed immensely to India’s Space Programme

Newsroom24x7 Network

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!

Tapan Misra

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.

ISRO and the mysterious men: Top scientist who was poisoned breaks silence

Newsroom24x7 Network

Tapan Misra, the distinguished scientist, who could have been the ISRO chief had it not been for the double extension granted to K. Sivan, has opened the pandora’s box by revealing how he was poisoned – not once but twice – by some mysterious men obviously wanting to eliminate him and thwart the progress of India’s space programme.

The distinguished scientist has also put the spotlight on the mysterious circumstances in which a couple of top scientists have died in the past. Misra wants the guilty to be identified and punished.

Within days of raising the issue of the “mysterious” men, who wanted to finish him, the top ISRO scientist has underscored through his latest post on facebook that his revelation will sensitise the society. The best way to save India’s bright minds is to put up constant vigil for “these characters and their machinations”, he has observed.

We are reproducing Misra’s facebook post:

“When you barely manage to return from the toll gate leading to the abode of Yamaraja, not once but twice, all those positions, ornamentation, awards etc., all those barometers of social and professional achievements, hold little meaning. My motivation was to open out harsh truths, which we tend to push under carpet, which we relegate to cemetery of silence, lest our vanity and pride crumble. I hope this revelation will sensitise the society, polity and most abused community of intellectuals, so that we prevent similar misfortunes to descend on unsuspecting bright minds, who left the temptations of lucres of distant shores to contribute their mites for betterment of our country. These mysterious men are like mythical Maya mrigas, difficult to identify from the feigned demeanor. They are very capable of unleashing troll armies, plant mischievous press reports and spread insinuations. I have understood that they have tremendous resources, both men and money, at their disposals. The best way to save our bright minds is to put up constant vigil for these characters and their machinations.”

Also read The long kept secret

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.