ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan talks about the proposed Mars mission, plans for Chandrayaan - 2 and outreach programmes for students in an exclusive interview to The Hindu in School

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched its 100{+t}{+h}mission recently. How does it feel to have achieved this milestone under your leadership?

I really feel proud and privileged to head an organisation like ISRO at this momentous occasion when India's 100{+t}{+h}space mission took place. It was the culmination of the work of thousands of highly skilled scientists, engineers and other staff. It was a matter of great satisfaction that the launch was flawless and our trusted workhorse PSLV put a French and a Japanese satellite precisely in their intended orbit demonstrating our space capabilities. Also, it was the 21{+s}{+t}successful PSLV launch in a row.

The PM has announced a Mars mission. How far is ISRO into the programme? How much of it is likely to be home-grown and will ISRO collaborate with other countries on this project?

ISRO has done a considerable amount of planning and ground work in this regard. The building of various equipments needed for an unmanned spacecraft to Mars has already begun. The spacecraft will be launched by the reliable workhorse PSLV, in its extended version. Thus, our Mission to Mars is entirely indigenous.

When is India going to have her own Sunita Williams? What are the problems in having a manned space flight programme in India?

Till now, our space activity has taken place in the fields of satellites, unmanned robotic spacecraft and launch vehicles necessary to put them into orbit.

Critical technology development in areas of space suits, crew modules, crew escape modules, test facilities and man rating of the launcher itself are challenging tasks in manned spaceflight.

What are the spin-offs of the space programme? Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam arranged for the lightweight aluminium used for spacecraft to be applied in making prosthetics for children who had had their legs amputated. Can you tell us about other such uses?

Spin-offs do occur and the artificial foot is one example. To quote a few more: artificial polyurethane foot, fire extinguishing powder, ISRO silica cloth (ISROSIL), Pedclean cleansing formulation, automatic weather stations, distress alert transmitters, search and rescue beacons and various indigenously developed software.

In addition to spin-offs, one other important dimension is the involvement of industry, both in the public and private sectors. to build ISRO’s rockets, satellites and ground facilities like launch pads.

ISRO’s sponsoring of research programme in space science has gone a long way in encouraging researchers.

What are the plans for Chandrayaan-2? What are the inputs from Chandrayaan-1 and the lessons learnt?

ISRO is planning Chandrayaan-2 jointly with the Russian Federal Space Agency. In this project, Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft will be sent to the moon and made to orbit it.

A lander will separate from the main spacecraft and make a ‘soft’ (meaning smooth) landing on the lunar surface. Then, a small rover (wheeled robotic vehicle) will come down from the lander, and explore the lunar surface with its scientific instruments. Chandrayaan-2 is currently scheduled to be launched by India’s GSLV in 2014.

Of course, the valuable lessons learnt during Chandrayaan-1 have been and will be made use of in designing Chandrayaan-2 mission.

Who has inspired you in this field? What is the most moving moment in your career?

People of my generation, including myself, have been inspired by the vision of Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the architect of the Indian space programme.

The other person who made a lasting impression on me was Prof. Satish Dhawan.

It was during Prof. Dhawan’s time that the Indian space programme had many significant achievements, including the launch of Aryabhata and the building of SLV-3 that earned respect and appreciation from other countries.

For me, every mission of ISRO has been exciting.

What are the space science challenges faced in India?

Perhaps the most important challenge faced by space science in India is attracting enough young minds to pursue research with devotion, dedication and passion.

Are there any ISRO programmes in which school children can participate? How do you plan to reach out to the younger generation?

As of now, ISRO is organising outreach activities like exhibitions, lectures, interactive sessions with scientists, water rocket events and quiz programmes; we have done such events all over the country. ISRO centres and units celebrate important annual science and space events like ‘National Science Day’ and ‘World Space Week’, when they declare ‘open day’. Thousands of school children visit the centres on those days and participate in various competitions. We also encourage student community visiting major ISRO Centres.

Study well and understand the fundamental concepts of science before memorising them for the sake of exams. Do your work with dedication. Through your hard work and dedication, you can contribute in your own way to your family as well as the society at large. Your future and, accordingly, India’s future is very bright.