While India battles with Coronavirus, ISRO Chief Dr. K Sivan, spoke to Republic Media Network Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, on Saturday about India's space ventures, Vikram Lander's hard landing, his own humble origins and India's chances against China in space. He detailed ISRO's learning after Chandrayaan-2 and India's Gaganyaan mission which is scheduled to launch by August 15, 2021. Dr. Sivan was named as the recipient of the 2020 Von Karman Award of the International Academy of Astronautics, earlier in the day.
Recounting the day when Chandrayaan-2's Vikram lander lost contact with ISRO minutes before its soft landing, ISRO chief K Sivan, on Saturday, explained how PM Modi hugging him consolingly soothed him.
"When the land test was not successful, all of us were affected, making our hearts heavy. In the morning, when the Prime Minister was leaving our centre after addressing the Indian community, I conveyed how I was extremely sorry for not making it. When I was telling him this, I was emotionally exploding. And seeing me explode, he really hugged me and he said nothing," he said.
Talking about Chandrayaan-2 and its bitter-sweet completion, Sivan explained the increasing difficulty of each phase of Vikram Lander's landing process. He explained that the four phases were - reducing maximum speed of the craft, past-stage, pipe-breaking phase and finally landing. Stating that in the third phase when the lander failed to achieve required altitude and speed it ended up hard-landing instead of soft landing.
Talking about the learning at the study done after Vikram's hard landing and Chandrayaan-3, he said, "Immediately after the event, we formed a national-level committee. Experts from the department and experts from academia all sat together and understood what really happened. Now that we understood what really happened, we are correcting ourselves for next mission - Chandrayan 3 mission which is planned sometime next year".
"When I was studying in a government primary school, we didn't have any big dream like this. While people used to say that I have a dream to become a scientist like that, at that time, the main aim is to get food for our stomachs. So for that, we had to work in the farms while school was secondary. At the same time, when I was growing up my aim was to become a teacher or bank employee like that".
He added, "While I wanted to go for engineering, my father said no no, you cannot go to engineering as he could not pay for the expenditure. So he asked me to do BSc (bachelor in science). After I completed BSc, my professor told me to go to Madras Institute of Technology. After completing studies at MIT, I wanted to go it for a job in aeronautical engineering, but I didn't get a job and was forced to go home. All my life, wherever I was trying to get into, I never got in the first chance. I always get the second chance, but I consider that second chance is always good for me as I really came up like that".
When asked about future missions of ISRO, Sivan elaborated on Gaganyaan, Aditya L-1, Venus mission, he said, "One dream I have is that we should put a man safely into orbit and bring him back safely to earth. This is one vision I have."
"There are definitely other areas when we talk about Aditya l-1. As a mission point of view, Aaditya L-1 is similar to any other mission. The only thing is that the payloads are different. Similarly, when you talk about the Venus mission, it is similar to what we have achieved like the Mangalyaan mission and other things. Only payloads are different".
Talking about the difference between these missions and Gaganyaan, he said, "Whereas the gaganyaan project, which I want, is a 100% totally indigenous. It needs a lot of new technology that needs to be developed. Human safety is most important. The reliability of the system is important and we are working with a full heart to achieve Gaganyaan".
Explaining current phase of Gaganyaan, he added, " After COVID, things have slightly slowed down. The defense phase of this mission is over. Now we are entering into the realization phase, the testing phase. Parallelly, we have selected 4 astronauts and sent them for training in Russia. After that, they will be coming back to India, and here also they will be undergoing training. So, we are parallelly working on many things".
Dr. K Sivan explained how the Indian space module will carry 3 of the 4 astronauts who will be trained. According to the design, these astronauts will stay in space for 7 days. But for the first mission, ISRO plans to bring back their astronauts sooner, as is the common practice between countries. He added that the astronauts will stay in India's space module only and not at the International Space station.
Elaborating on Gaganyaan's space module, he said that the module has two parts - service module (powers the capsule), crew module (where the crew will stay), which will also serve as the return vehicle for these astronauts.
Talking about its estimated date, he added, "Before the 75th anniversary of our independence, we should send our Gaganyaan into space. And that's why we have set 2021 December as the target, with the cushion of 8 months. Unfortunately, due to this COVID condition, all our schedule has slightly slipped. Still, we hope we will be able to achieve it before the deadline is over".
Exuding confidence in India's space potential, he said, "If not immediately, in future I am sure we will get many Elon musks. India has the kind of enthusiasm that our startup companies are providing for technology development. Many big industries are also showing interest about getting into our space venture. I am sure in the future, there will be Elon musks from India."
When asked about India and China's match-up in space, he said, " I am sure that may be in the future, somehow, the technology will beat China. Right now I won't be able to say anything very clearly. Given our developing technology, we have always shown that we are second to none."