Former ISRO colleagues challenge claims about Nambi Narayanan’s role in space programme

ISRO's successes are products of teamwork, they say

August 24, 2022 06:43 pm | Updated August 25, 2022 01:54 am IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

(From left) Former ISRO scientists Jeyakumar Thomas, A. E. Muthunayagam, D. Sasikumaran and E. V. S. Namboothiri during a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday.

(From left) Former ISRO scientists Jeyakumar Thomas, A. E. Muthunayagam, D. Sasikumaran and E. V. S. Namboothiri during a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: S. MAHINSHA

Several Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) veterans, including A. E. Muthunayagam, former director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), have challenged claims reportedly made by S. Nambi Narayanan, the former scientist who was implicated in the ISRO espionage case, and the Madhavan-starrer biopic Rocketry: The Nambi Effectregarding his contributions to the Indian space programme, especially those related to cryogenic propulsion.

Many of the claims in the movie and those made by Mr. Narayanan in various forums are baseless and tend to mislead the public, the former scientists, which included D. Sasikumaran who also had been implicated in the spy case, told a meet-the-press programme organised by the Thiruvananthapuram Press Club here on Wednesday.

While they bore no personal enmity or ill will towards Mr. Narayanan, they wished to present the facts before the public, they said. ISRO's successes are the products of teamwork and any one individual cannot claim sole credit, they added.

Major developments in cryogenic propulsion took place in ISRO after Mr. Narayanan left the LPSC in 1994., according to Dr. Muthunayagam and E.V.S. Namboothiri, who chaired the project management board on cryogenic upper stage (CUS) project

Mr. Narayanan was neither a member of the study project which, in the mid-eighties, recommended the development of cryogenic propulsion systems, nor did he make any contributions to it. He was also not in the Cryogenic Propulsion Development Group formed by Dr. Muthunayagam in 1987 with Mr. Namboothiri as Group Director, Dr. Muthunayagam said.

''Recently, Mr. Narayanan claimed that he had good knowledge on cryogenic propulsion systems from his Russian friend during his MS program at Princeton University. He did not disclose anything about it to the cryogenic study project of the mid-eighties, or in 1987 to E. V. S. Namboodiri or to his controlling officer or to ISRO management. The role of Mr. Narayanan in these claims in public meetings for years and the film Rocketry may be critically examined and the truth brought to the benefit of the public,'' Dr. Muthunayagam said in a written statement.

According to Dr. Muthunayagam, Mr. Narayanan was responsible, under him, for development activities pertaining to the liquid stages, but he never had any responsibility in their development independent of Dr. Muthunayagam.

On why they had waited so long with their refutation of Mr. Narayanan, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2019 for his contributions, the former scientists said the ''errors'' have now accumulated to a great extent.

To a question whether he had confronted Mr. Narayanan regarding the claims, Dr. Muthunayagam replied that he had, adding that he had indeed requested his former colleague to refrain from making claims that were based on falsehoods. Replying to questions regarding custodial torture during the spy case, Mr. Sasikumaran said he himself was not subjected to physical assault while in custody.

‘Unanswered questions’

There are still many unanswered questions connected to the ISRO spy case of 1994, Mr. Muthunayagam said.

K. Kasturirangan, then ISRO chairman, had bypassed him, the director of LPSC, and dealt the spy case directly with the Kerala Police. Cryogenic technology, which was at the centre of the spy case controversy, did not even exist in LPSC at the time.

Dr. Kasturirangan never discussed the details of the spy case with him, but took administrative action against Mr. Narayanan and Mr. Sasikumaran who were his subordinates, said Dr. Muthunayagam.

''It is a matter of serious concern why the then ISRO chairman processed the espionage case on non-existing cryogenic technology and initiated disciplinary proceedings against two senior officials of LPSC. Dr. Kasturirangan, then chairman ISRO, could clarify this very important issue,'' Dr. Muthunayagam said.

The ISRO veterans who attended the press conference also included Sreedharan Das, former Associate Director, LPSC; Mr. Namboodiri, and Jeyakumar Thomas, former Group Head, ISRO.

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