CHENNAI: ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair got a royal welcome at the Sathyabhama Deemed University, which is hosting an international conference in space technology. Posters dotting the campus bore pictures of a victorious looking Dr Nair with the slogan, "He is a great hero, India and abroad." A sign, perhaps, of how India's lunar mission Chandrayaan has captured the imagination of the youth and upped Isro's brand value. Dr Nair, instead, focuses on the relevance of Isro's future missions, its challenges and the management lessons that India Inc could glean from the state-run space agency. ET caught up with Dr Nair a day before the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) is ejected from the Chandrayaan satellite, following which the Indian flag will crash land on the moon, literally! Excerpts:
Can Chandrayaan be termed a complete success when the MIP lands?
No, it will still amount to 95% success since we have to map the moon’s surface for the next year and a half. Mineral mapping and surface feature mapping will be paramount. We can gauge 100% success only after that. The MIP has been scheduled for Friday evening, but we haven't slotted a time yet.
How are the Chandrayaan-II, solar and Mars missions progressing?
Chandrayaan-II will be launched in 2012. We will have a lander (a space vehicle that is designed to land) on it and will drop a small robot on the moon. The robot will pick up samples and analyse and send the data back. For the solar mission, a satellite called Adithya will study solar emissions and its influence. The design has been completed and the launch will happen within two years. We are also going ahead with the study on the Mars mission.
What’s the need of a Rs 12,000-crore human space flight?
We cannot be lagging behind in our capability to access space. China, the US and Japan are going ahead with huge plans for space exploration. There are some processes involved and we will get the government’s approval consequently. The manned mission is slated for 2015.
So, is this more about national prestige? You've mentioned before that advanced scientific instruments can perform better than humans in space.
We don't want to get into a space war. There are certain functions that only humans can carry out. For example, there will be emissions or radiation, which occur when a new star is being formed or some collection in space takes place. If we wait for this information to be scanned and obtained on the ground and then react, the opportunity will be missed. On the other hand, if a person is sitting behind the instrument, he can capture it and react properly. We are putting many spacecraft, which have a shelf life of five-ten years, into orbit.
These machines will be limited by components like fuel. If we send a person with repairs kits, the life of these satellites can be extended. Also, a man could help in close observation and activation of mechanisms to keep the space free of debris.
When will space research and technology be completely opened up for private players?
We are open to their involvement. It's only for the private sector to wake up and catch up.
There has been a lot of mention about the management lessons that one can glean from the moon mission and Isro.
At Isro, there is no formal hierarchical structure wherein commands are transmitted from top to bottom. One can always think of an ideal solution that will bring perfection but we look for solutions that can be implemented in a timely and cost-effective manner.
When you break an issue into many components and divide responsibility, there is no complex issue that you cannot overcome. We exploit the expertise of every individual, like what Lord Rama did with the squirrel. We try to tap all the bits and pieces and that's how Chandrayaan like missions are accomplished.