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PMNC 2017 : Keynotes : Leaders Who Built India’S Space Program
India’s journey into space research is reaching new heights with each launch, earning the country’s scientists accolades, and positioning India as a destination for both space exploration and commercial satellite launches.
However, the beginnings of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the agency that is at the center of it all, were rather humble.S. Nambi Narayanan, retired ISRO scientist who is known for his work in the field of liquid propulsion and cryogenic fuels for satellite launch vehicles, provided delegates an intimate look at the leadership styles of some of India’s pioneers in space research.
Giving an account of his experiences of working with the four doyens of ISRO – Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and U.R. Rao, Mr. Narayanan said, “These leaders showed that when a leader has an emotional connect with a project besides deep knowledge, the project is bound to succeed.”
He spoke about Mr. Sarabhai’s ingenuity, Mr. Dhawan’s cando spirit, and Dr. Kalam’s dream that became his life’s mission, and how together these legends helped build ISRO in its early days. Mr. Narayanan recalled that initially when Mr. Sarabhai invited Indian scientists from other parts of the world to come and work for ISRO, he had no job descriptions for them.
Job descriptions and project definitions came to ISRO much later. When the agency couldn’t acquire technology know-how from other countries, the scientists launched a “know why” project to get around the problem.
When Mr. Narayanan was told he couldn’t fly a satellite launch vehicle before it was tested on the ground, he negotiated hard with his seniors to convince them that it was a calculated risk. Such unconventional working styles and deep conviction were critical factors that helped India get its space research program off the ground
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