அக்கினி சிறகுகள் பக்கம் 4

26 01 2009





The future satellite launch vehicle (SLV) had also been conceived
by this time. Recognizing the immense socio- economic benefits of space
technology , Prof. Sarabhai decided in 1969, to go full-steam ahead with
the task of establishing indigenous capability in building and launching
our own satellites. He personally participated in an aerial survey of the
east coast for a possible site for launching satellite launch vehicles and
large rockets.

Prof. Sarabhai was concentrating on the east coast in order to let the
launch vehicle take full advantage of the earth’ s west to east rotation.
He finally selected the Sriharikota Island, 100 km north of Madras (now
Chennai), and thus the SHAR Rocket Launch Station was born. The
crescent-shaped island has a maximum width of 8 km and lies alongside
the coastline.  The island is as big as Madras city.   The Buckingham
Canal and the Pulicat lake form its western boundary.

In 1968, we had formed the Indian Rocket Society. Soon after, the
INCOSP AR was reconstituted as an advisory body under the Indian
National Science  Academy (INSA) and the Indian Space Research
Organization (ISRO) was created under the Department of Atomic
Energy (DAE) to conduct space research in the country .

By this time, Prof. Sarabhai had already hand-picked a team to give
form to his dream of an Indian SLV . I consider myself fortunate to have
been chosen to be a project leader . Prof. Sarabhai gave me the additional
responsibility of designing the fourth stage of the SLV .Dr VR Gowarikar,
MR Kurup and AE Muthunayagam were given the tasks of designing
the other three stages.

What made Prof. Sarabhai pick a few of us for this great mission?
One reason seemed to be our professional background. Dr Gowarikar
was doing outstanding work in the field of composite propellants. MR
Kurup had established an excellent laboratory for propellants, propulsion
and pyrotechnics. Muthunayagam had proved himself in the field of
high energy propellants. The fourth stage was to be a composite structure
and called for a large number of innovations in fabrication technology;
perhaps that was why I was brought in.


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I laid the foundation for Stage IV on two rocks—sensible
approximation and unawed support. I have always considered the price
of perfection prohibitive and allowed mistakes as a part of the learning
process. I prefer a dash of daring and persistence to perfection. I have
always supported learning on the part of my team members by paying
vigilant attention to each of their attempts, be they successful or

In my group, progress was recognized and reinforced at every tiny
step.  Although I provided access to all the information that my co-workers
in Stage IV needed, I found I could not spend enough time to be a useful
facilitator and a source of support. I wondered if there was something
wrong with the way in which I managed my time.  At this stage, Prof.
Sarabhai brought a French visitor to our work centre to point out the
problem to me. This gentleman was Prof. Curien, PresidenT of CNES
(Centre Nationale de Etudes Spatiales), our counterpart in France. They
were then developing the Diamont launch vehicles. Prof. Curien was a
thorough professional.  Together, Prof. Sarabhai and Prof. Curien helped
me set a target. While they discussed the means by which I could reach
it, they also cautioned me about the possibilities of failure. While I arrived
at a better awareness of Stage IV problems through the supportive
counselling of Prof. Curien, Prof. Sarabhai’ s catalytic intervention led
Prof. Curien to reinterpret his own progress in the Diamont programme.

Prof. Curien advised Prof. Sarabhai to relieve me of all the minor
jobs which posed little challenge and to give me more opportunities for
achievement. He was so impressed by our well-planned efforts that he
inquired if we could make the Diamont’ s fourth stage. I recall how this
brought a subtle smile to Prof. Sarabhai’ s face.

As a matter of fact, the Diamont and SLV airframes were
incompatible. The diameters were quite different and to attain
interchangeability , some radical innovations were required. I wondered
where I should start. I decided to look around for solutions among my
own colleagues. I used to carefully observe my colleagues to see if their
daily routine reflected their desire to constantly experiment. I also started
asking and listening to anyone who showed the slightest promise. Some
of my friends cautioned me about what they termed as my naivete. I
made it an unfailing routine to make notes on individual suggestions and
gave handwritten notes to colleagues in engineering and design, requesting
concrete follow-up action within five or ten days.

This method worked wonderfully well. Prof. Curien testified, while
reviewing our progress, that we had achieved in a year ’ s  time what our
counterparts in Europe could barely manage in three years. Our plus
point, he noted, was that each of us worked with those below and above
in the hierarchy . I made it a point to have the team meet at least once
every week.  Though it took up time and energy, I considered it essential.

How good is a leader? No better than his people and their commitment
and participation in the project as full partners! The fact that I got them
all together to share whatever little development had been achieved—
results, experiences, small successes, and the like—seemed to me worth
putting all my energy and time into. It was a very small price to pay for
that commitment and sense of teamwork, which could in fact be called
trust.  W ithin my own small group of people I found leaders, and learned
that leaders exist at every level. This was another important aspecTof
management that I learned.

We had modified the existing SLV -IV Stage design to suit the Diamont
airframe. It was reconfigured and upgraded from a 250 kg, 400 mm
diameter stage to a 600 kg, 650 mm diameter stage.  After two years’
effort, when we were about to deliver it to CNES, the French suddenly
cancelled their Diamont BC programme. They told us that they did not
need our Stage IV anymore. It was a great shock, making me re-live
the earlier disappointments at Dehra Dun, when I failed to get into the
Air Force, and at Bangalore, when the Nandi project was aborted at

I had invested great hope and effort in the fourth stage, so that it
could be flown with a Diamont rocket.  The other three stages of SLV,
involving enormous work in the area of rocket propulsion were at least
five years away . However, it did not take me long to shelve the
disappointmenTof Diamont BC S tage IV .   After all, I had thoroughly
enjoyed working on this project. In time, RATO filled the vacuum created
in me by the Diamont BC Stage.

When the RATOproject was underway, the SLV project slowly started
taking shape. Competence for all major systems of a launch vehicle had
been established in  Thumba by now .  Through their outstanding ef forts,
V asant Gowarikar , MR Kurup and Muthunayagam prepared  TERLS
for a big leap in rocketry .

Prof. Sarabhai was an exemplar in the art of team-building. On one
occasion, he had to identify a person who could be given the responsibility
for developing a telecommand system for the SLV .   Two men were
competent to carry out this task—one was the seasoned and sophisticated
UR Rao and the other was a relatively unknown experimenter, G
Madhavan Nair .  Although I was deeply impressed by Madhavan Nair’s
dedication and abilities, I did not rate his chances as very good. During
one of Prof. Sarabhai’ s routine visits, Madhavan Nair boldly demonstrated
his improvised but highly reliable telecommand system. Prof. Sarabhai
did not take much time to back the young experimenter in preference to
an established expert. Madhavan Nair not only lived up to the
expectations of his leader but even went beyond them. He was to later
become the project director of the Polar Satellite Launch  Vehicle (PSLV).

SLVs and missiles can be called first cousins: they are different in
concept and purpose, but come from the same bloodline of rocketry .  A
massive missile development project had been taken up by DRDO at
the Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad.
As the pace of this surface-to-air missile development project increased,
the frequency of the Missile Panel meetings and my interaction with Gp
Capt Narayanan also increased.

In 1968, Prof. Sarabhai came to Thumba on one of his routine visits.
He was shown the operation of the nose-cone jettisoning mechanism.
As always, we were all anxious to share the results of our work with
Prof. Sarabhai. Were  requested Prof. Sarabhai to formally activate the
pyro system through a timer circuit. Prof. Sarabhai smiled, and pressed
the button.  To  our horror , nothing happened.  Were were dumbstruck. I
looked at Pramod Kale, who had designed and integrated the timer circuit.
In a flash each of us mentally went through an anlysis of the failure.  Were
requested Prof. Sarabhai to wait for a few minutes, then we detached
the timer device, giving direct connection to the pyros. Prof. Sarabhai
pressed the button again. The pyros were fired and the nose cone was
jettisoned. Prof. Sarabhai congratulated Kale and me; but his expression
suggested that his thoughts were elsewhere.  Were could not guess what
was on his mind. The suspense did not last for long and I got a call from
Prof. Sarabhai’ s secretary to meet him after dinner for an important

Prof. Sarabhai was staying at the Kovalam Palace Hotel, his usual
home whenever he was in  T rivandrum. I was slightly perplexed by the
summons. Prof. Sarabhai greeted me with his customary warmth. He
talked of the rocket launching station, envisaging facilities like launch
pads, block houses, radar , telemetry and so on—things which are taken
for granted in Indian space research today .  Then he brought up the
incident that had occurred that morning. This was exactly what I had
feared. My apprehension of a reproach from my leader, however , was
unfounded. Prof. Sarabhai did not conclude that the failure of the pyro
timer circuit was the outcome of insufficient knowledge and lack of skill
on the parTof his people or of faulty understanding at the direction stage.
He asked me instead, if we were unenthused by a job that did not pose
sufficient challenge. He also asked me to consider if my work was
possibly being affected by any problem of which I was hitherto unaware.
He finally put his finger on the key issue.  Were lacked a single roof to
carry out system integration of all our rocket stages and rocket systems.
Electrical and mechanical integration work was going on with a
significant phase difference—both in time and in space. There was little
effort to bring together the disparate work on electrical and mechanical
integration. Prof. Sarabhai spent the next hour in re-defining our tasks,
and, in the small hours of the morning, the decision to set up a Rocket
Engineering Section was taken.

Mistakes can delay or prevent the proper achievement of the
objectives of individuals and organizations, but a visionary like Prof.
Sarabhai can use errors as opportunities to promote innovation and the
developmenTof new ideas. He was not especially concerned with the
mistake in the timer circuit, least of all with pinning the blame for it.
Prof. Sarabhai’ s approach to mistakes rested on the assumption that
they were inevitable but generally manageable. It was in the handling of
the crises that arose as a consequence that talent could often be revealed.
I later realised by experience, that the best way to prevent errors was to
anticipate them. But this time, by a strange twist of fate, the failure of
the timer circuit led to the birth of a rocket engineering laboratory .

It was my usual practice to brief Prof. Sarabhai after every Missile
Panel Meeting.  After attending one such meeting in Delhi on 30
December 1971, I was returning to  Trivandrum. Prof. Sarabhai was
visiting  Thumba that very day to review the SLV  design. I spoke to him
on the telephone from the airport lounge about the salient points that had
emer ged at the panel meeting. He instructed me to wait at  Trivandrum
Airport after disembarking from the Delhi flight, and to meet him there
before his departure for Bombay the same night.

When I reached Trivandrum, a pall of gloom hung in the air .  The
aircraft ladder operator Kutty told me in a choked voice that Prof.
Sarabhai was no more. He had passed away a few hours ago, following
a cardiac arrest. I was shocked to the core; it had happened within an
hour of our conversation. It was a great blow to me and a huge loss to
Indian science. That night passed in preparations for airlifting Prof.
Sarabhai’ s body for the cremation in  Ahmedabad.

For five years, between 1966 to 1971, about 22 scientists and engineers
had worked closely with Prof. Sarabhai.  All of them were later to take
charge of important scientific projects. Not only was Prof. Sarabhai a
great scientist, but also a great leader . I still remember him reviewing
the bi-monthly progress of the design projects of SLV -3 in June 1970.
Presentations on Stages I to IV were arranged. The first three
presentations went through smoothly . Mine was the last presentation. I
introduced five of my team members who had contributed in various
ways to the design.  To everybody’s surprise, each of them presented his
portion of the work with authority and confidence. The presentations
were discussed at length and the conclusion was that satisfactory
progress had been made.

Suddenly , a senior scientist who worked closely with Prof. Sarabhai
turned to me and enquired, “Well, the presentations for your project
were made by your team members based on their work. But what did
you do for the project?” That was the first time I saw Prof. Sarabhai
really annoyed. He told his colleague, “You ought to know what project
management is all about.  We just witnessed an excellent example. It
was an outstanding demonstration of team work. I have always seen a
project leader as an integrator of people and that is precisely what Kalam
is.” I consider Prof. Sarabhai as the Mahatma Gandhi of Indian science
—generating leadership qualities in his team and inspiring them through
both ideas and example.

After an interim arrangement with Prof. MGK Menon at the helm,
Prof. Satish Dhawan was given the responsibility of heading ISRO. The
whole complex at Thumba, which included TERLS, the Space Science
and  TechnologyCentre (SSTC), the RPP , the Rocket Fabrication Facility
(RFF), and the Propellant Fuel Complex (PFC) were merged together
to form an integrated space centre and christened the  Vikram Sarabhai
Space Centre (VSSC) as a tribute to the man to whom it owed its
existence. The renowned metallurgist, Dr Brahm Prakash, took over as
the first Director of VSSC.

The RATO system was successfully tested on 8 October 1972 at
Bareilly Air Force station in Uttar Pradesh, when a high performance
Sukhoi-16 jet aircraft became airborne after a short run of 1200 m, as
against its usual run of 2 km. Were  used the 66th RATO motor in the test.
The demonstration was watched by Air Marshal Shivdev Singh and Dr
BD Nag Chaudhury , then the Scientific  Adviser to the Defence Minister .
This effort was said to have saved approximately Rs 4 crores in foreign
exchange. The vision of the industrialist scientist had finally borne fruit.

Before taking up the responsibility of organizing space research in
India and becoming the chairman of INCOSP AR, Prof. Sarabhai had
established a number of successful industrial enterprises. He was aware
that scientific research could not survive in isolation, away from industry .
Prof. Sarabhai founded Sarabhai Chemicals, Sarabhai Glass, Sarabhai
Geigy Limited, Sarabhai Merck Limited, and the Sarabhai Engineering
Group. His Swastik Oil Mills did pioneering work in the extraction of oil
from oilseeds, manufacture of synthetic detergents and of cosmetics.
He geared Standard Pharmaceuticals Limited to enable large-scale
manufacture of penicillin, which was imported from abroad at
astronomical costs at that time. Now with the indigenization of RATO,
his mission had acquired a new dimension—independence in the
manufacture of military hardware and the potential saving of crores of
rupees in foreign exchange. I recalled this on the day of the successful
trial of the RATO  system. Including trial expenses, we spent less than
Rs. 25 lakhs on the entire project.  The Indian RATO could be produced
at Rs.17,000 apiece, and it replaced the imported RATO, which cost Rs.
At the  V ikram Sarabhai Space Centre, work on the SLV  went on at
full swing.  All the subsystems had been designed, technologies identified,
processes established, work centers selected, manpower earmarked and
schedules drawn. The only hitch was the lack of a management structure
to effectively handle this mega-project and coordinate activities which
were spread over a large number of work centres with their own ways
of working and management.

Prof. Dhawan, in consultation with Dr Brahm Prakash, picked me
for this job. I was appointed the Project Manager—SLV, and reported
directly to the Director ,  VSSC. My first task was to work out a project
management plan. I wondered why I was selected for this task when
there were stalwarts like Gowarikar , Muthunayagam, and Kurup around.
Withor ganizers like Easwardas,  Aravamudan, and SC Gupta available,
how would I do better? I articulated my doubts to Dr Brahm Prakash.
He told me not to focus on what I saw as other people’s strengths
compared to my own, but instead, to attempt to expand their abilities.


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                                                                                              — தமிழ் கிறுக்கன் –


Dr Brahm Prakash advised me to take care of the performance
degraders and cautioned me against out rightly seeking optimal
performance from the participating work centres. “Everyone will work
to create their bit of SLV ;  your problem is going to be your dependency
on others in accomplishing the total SLV .   The SLV mission will be
accomplished with, and through, a large number of people.  You will require
a tremendous amount of tolerance and patience,” he said. It reminded
me of what my father used to read to me from the Holy Quran  on the
distinction between right and wrong: “We have sent no apostle before
you who did not eat or walk about the market squares.  We test you by
means of one another .  Will you not have patience?”

I was aware of the contradiction that often occurred in such situations.
People heading teams often have one of the following two orientations:
for some, work is the most important motivation; for others, their workers
are the all-consuming interest. There are many others who fall either
between these two positions or outside them. My job was going to be to
avoid those who were interested neither in the work nor in the workers.
I was determined to prevent people from taking either extreme, and to
promote conditions where work and workers went together . I visualized
my team as a group in which each member worked to enrich the others
in the team and experience the enjoyment of working together .

The primary objectives of the SLV Project were design, development
and operation of a standard SLV  system, SLV -3, capable of reliably and
expeditiously fulfilling the specified mission of launching a 40 kg satellite
into a 400 km circular orbit around the earth.

As a first step, I translated the primary project objectives into some
major tasks. One such task was the development of a rocket motor
system for the four stages of the vehicle. The critical problems in the
completion of this task were: making an 8.6 tonne propellant grain and a
high mass ratio apogee rocket motor system which would use high-
ener gy propellants.  Another task was vehicle control and guidance.  Three
types of control systems were involved in this task—aerodynamic surface
control, thrust vector control and reaction control for the first, second
and third stages and the spin-up mechanism for the fourth stage. Inertial
reference for control systems and guidance through inertial measurement
was also imperative.  Y et another major task was the augmentation of
launch facilities at SHAR with systems integration and checkout facilities
and development of launch support systems such as launchers and vehicle
assembly fixtures.  A  target of ‘all line’  flight test within 64 months was
set in March 1973.

I took up the executive responsibility of implementing the project
within the framework of policy decisions taken, the approved
management plan, and the project report; and also within the budget and
through the powers delegated to me by the Director ,  VSSC. Dr Brahm
Prakash formed four Project Advisory Committees to advise me on
specialized areas like rocket motors, materials and fabrication, control
and guidance, electronics, and mission and launching. I was assured of
the guidance of outstanding scientists like DS Rane, Muthunayagam,
TS Prahlad, AR Acharya, SC Gupta, and CL   Amba Rao, to name a few.

The Holy Qur ’an says: “We have sent down to you revelations
showing you an account of those who have gone before you and an
admonition to righteous men.” I sought to share the wisdom of these
extremely brilliant people. “Light upon light.  Allah guides to His light
whom He will. He has knowledge of all things.”

We  made three groups to carry out the project activities—a
Programme Management Group, an Integration and Flight Testing Group
and a Subsystems Development Group. The first Group was made
responsible for looking after the overall executive aspects of SLV -3:
project management, including administration, planning and evaluation,
subsystems specifications, materials, fabrication, quality assurance and
control.  The Integration and Flight  Testing Group was assigned the tasks
of generation of facilities required for integration and flight testing of
SLV -3.  They were also asked to carry out the analysis of the vehicle,
including mechanical and aerodynamic interface problems. The
Subsystems Development Group was given the job of interacting with
various divisions of VSSC and was made responsible for ensuring that
all technological problems in the development of various subsystems
were overcome by creating a synergy amongst the available talent in
these divisions.
I projected a requirement of 275 engineers and scientists for SLV – 3
but could get only about 50. If it had not been for synergistic efforts, the
whole project would have remained a non-starter . Some young engineers
like MSR Dev , G Madhavan Nair , S Srinivasan, US Singh, Sunderrajan,
Abdul Majeed,  V ed Prakash Sandlas, Namboodiri, Sasi Kumar , and
Sivathanu Pillai developed their own ground rules designed to help them
work efficiently as a project team, and produced outstanding individual
and team results. These men were in the habit of celebrating their
successes together—in a sort of mutual appreciation club. This boosted
morale, and helped them a great deal to accept setbacks and to revitalize
themselves after periods of intense work.

Each member of the SLV -3 project team was a specialist in his own
field. It was natural therefore that each one of them valued his
independence.  To manage the performance of such specialists the team
leader has to adopt a delicate balance between the hands-on and the
hands-off approach. The hands-on approach takes an active interest on
a very regular basis in the members’ work. The hands-off approach
trusts team members and recognizes their need for autonomy to carry
out their roles, as they see fit. It hinges on their self-motivation. When
the leader goes too far with the hands-on approach, he is seen as an
anxious and interfering type. If he goes too far hands-off, he is seen as
abdicating his responsibility or not being interested.  Today, the members
of the SLV -3 team have grown to lead some of the country’ s most
prestigious programmes. MSR Dev heads the Augmented Satellite
Launch Vehicle (ASLV) project, Madhavan Nair is the chief of the
Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) project and Sandlas and Sivathanu
Pillai are Chief Controllers in DRDO Headquarters. Each one of these
men rose to his present position through consistent hard work and rock-
like will power . It was indeed an exceptionally talented team.






Having taken up the leadership of executing the SLV -3 project,
I faced urgent and conflicting demands on my time—for
committee work, material procurement, correspondence,
reviews, briefings, and for the need to be informed on a wide range of

My day would start with a stroll of about 2 km around the lodge I
was living in. I used to prepare a general schedule during my morning
walk, and emphasize two or three things I would definitely like to
accomplish during the day ,  including at least one thing that would help
achieve long-term goals.
Once in the office, I would clean the table first.  Within the next ten
minutes, I would scan all the papers and quickly divide them into different
categories: those that required immediate action, low priority ones, ones
that could be kept pending, and reading material. Then I would put the
high priority papers in front of me and everything else out of sight.
Coming back to SLV -3, about 250 sub-assemblies and 44 major
subsystems were conceived during the design. The list of materials went
up to over 1 million components.  A project implementation strategy had
become essential to achieve sustained viability of this complex
programme of seven to ten years’ duration. From his side, Prof. Dhawan
came up with a clear statement that all the manpower and funds at
VSSC and SHAR would have to be directed to us. From our side, we
evolved a matrix type of management to achieve productive interfacing
with more than 300 industries. The target was that our interaction with
them must lead to their technology empowerment. Three things I stressed
before my colleagues—importance of design capability , goal setting and
realisation, and the strength to withstand setbacks. Now , before I dwell
on the finer aspects of the management of the SLV -3 project, let me talk
about the SLV -3 itself.

It is interesting to describe a launch vehicle anthropomorphically.
The main mechanical structure may be visualized as the body of a human
being, the control and guidance systems with their associated electronics
constitute the brain. The musculature comes from propellants. How are
they made? What are the materials and techniques involved?

A large variety of materials go into the making of a launch vehicle—
both metallic and non-metallic, which include composites and ceramics.
In metals, different types of stainless steel, alloys of aluminium,
magnesium, titanium, copper , beryllium, tungsten and molybdenum are
used. Composite materials are composed of a mixture or combination of
two or more constituents which differ in form and material composition
and which are essentially insoluble in one another .  The materials which
combine may be metallic, organic or inorganic. While other material
combinations possible are virtually unlimited, the most typical composites
in launch vehicles are made of structural constituents, embedded in a
matrix.  Were used a large variety of glass fibre reinforced plastic
composites and opened avenues for the entry of Kevlar , polyamides and
carbon-carbon composites. Ceramics are special types of baked clay
used for microwave transparent enclosures. Were considered using
ceramics, but had to reject the idea then due to technological limitations.

Through mechanical engineering, these materials are transformed
into hardware. In fact, of all the engineering disciplines which feed directly
into the development of rocketry , mechanical engineering is perhaps the
most intrinsic one. Be it a sophisticated system like a liquid engine or a
piece of hardware as simple as a fastener , its ultimate fabrication calls
for expert mechanical engineers and precision machine tools.  Were decided
to develop important technologies like welding techniques for low-alloy
stainless steel, electroforming techniques, and ultra-precision process
tooling.  Were  also decided to make some important machines in-house,
like the 254-litre vertical mixer and the groove machining facility for our
third and fourth stages. Many of our subsystems were so massive and
complex that they implied sizeable financial outlays.  Without any
hesitation, we approached industries in the private sector and developed
contract management plans which later became blueprints for many
Government-run science and technology business organizations.

Coming to the life part of the SLV,  there is the complex electrical
circuitry , which sets the mechanical structure in motion.  This vast
spectrum of activities, encompassing simple electrical power supplies to
sophisticated instrumentation as well as guidance and control systems is
collectively referred to in aerospace research as ‘ avionics’.
Development efforts in avionic systems had already been initiated at
VSSC in the field of digital electronics, microwave radars and radar
transponders, and inertial components and systems. It is very important
to know the state of the SLV  when it is in flight. SLV brought a new
surge of activity in the development of a variety of transducers for
measurement of physical parameters like pressure, thrust, vibration,
acceleration, etc. The transducers convert the physical parameters of
the vehicle into electrical signals.  An on-board telemetry system processes
these signals suitably and transmits them in the form of radio signals to
the ground stations, where they are received and deciphered back to the
original information collected by the transducers. If the systems work
according to design there is little cause for concern; but in case something
goes wrong, the vehicle must be destroyed to stop it from making any
unexpected moves.  To  ensure safety , a special tele-command system
was made to destroy the rocket in case it malfunctions, and an
interferometer system was developed to determine the range and position
of the SLV ,  as a added means to the radar system.  The SLV  project also
initiated the indigenous production of sequencers which time the various
events, such as ignition, stage separation, vehicle altitude programmers
which store the information for the rocket maneuvers, and auto-pilot
electronics which take appropriate decisions to steer the rocket along its
predetermined path.


Without the energy to propel the whole system, a launch vehicle
remains grounded.  A  propellant is usually a combustible substance that
produces heat and supplies ejection particles in a rocket engine. It is
both a source of ener gy and a working substance for expanding energy .
Because the distinction is more decisive in rocket engines, the term
propellant is used primarily to describe chemicals carried by rockets for
propulsive purposes.

It is customary to classify propellants as either solids or liquids.  Were
concentrated on solid propellants.  A  solid propellant consists essentially
of three components: the oxidizer , the fuel and the additives. Solid
propellants are further classified into two types: composite and double
base. The former consists of an oxidizer or inorganic material (like
ammonium per chlorate) in a matrix of organic fuel (like synthetic rubber).
Double base propellants were distant dreams those days but nevertheless
we dared to dream about them.

All this self sufficiency and indigenous manufacture came gradually ,
and not always without pain.  We  were a team of almost self-trained
engineers. In retrospect I feel the unique blend of our untutored talent,
character , and dedication suited SLV  development the most. Problems
surfaced regularly and almost consistently . But my team members never
exhausted my patience. I recall writing after winding up a late night

Beautiful hands are those that do
Work that is earnest and brave and tr u e
Moment by moment
The long day through.

Almost parallel to our work on SLV ,the DRDO was preparing itself
for developing an indigenous surface-to-air missile.  The RATO  project
was abandoned because the aircraft for which it was designed became
obsolete.  The new aircraft did not need RATO.  With the project called
off, Narayanan was DRDO’ s logical choice to lead the team for making
the missile. Unlike us at ISRO, they preferred the philosophy of one-to-
one substitution rather than technology development and performance
upgrading. The Surface-to-Air Missile SA–2 of Russian origin was
chosen to acquire detailed knowledge of all the design parameters of a
proven missile and to establish, thereby , the necessary infrastructure
required in the organization. It was thought that once one-to-one
indigenization was established, further advances in the sophisticated field
of guided missiles would be a natural fall-out. The project was sanctioned
in February 1972 with the code name Devil and funding of about Rs. 5
crore was made available for the first three years.  Almost half of it was
to go in foreign exchange.

By now promoted to  Air Commodore, Narayanan took over as
Director , DRDL. He mobilized this young laboratory located in the south-
eastern suburbs of Hyderabad to take up this enormous task. The
landscape dotted with tombs and old buildings started reverberating with
new life. Narayanan was a man of tremendous energy—a man always
in the boost phase. He gathered around him a strong group of enthusiastic
people, drawing many service officers into this predominantly civilian
laboratory .Totally preoccupied with the SLV  affairs, my participation in
the Missile Panel meetings gradually dwindled, and then stopped
altogether . However , stories about Narayanan and his Devil were
beginning to reach  Trivandrum. A  transformation of an unprecedented
scale was taking place there.


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                                                                                              — தமிழ் கிறுக்கன் –


During my association with Narayanan in the RATO  project, I had
discovered that he was a hard taskmaster—one who went all out for
control, mastery and domination. I used to wonder if managers like him,
who aim at getting results no matter what the price, would face a rebellion
of silence and non-cooperation in the long run.

New  Year ’s  day , 1975, brought with it an opportunity to have a first-
person assessment of the work going on under Narayanan’ s leadership.
Prof. MGK Menon, who was working then as Scientific  Advisor to the
Defence Minister and was head of the DRDO, appointed a review
committee under the chairmanship of Dr Brahm Prakash to evaluate
the work carried out in the Devil Project. I was taken into the team as a
rocket specialist to evaluate the progress made in the areas of
aerodynamics, structure and propulsion of the missile. On the propulsion
aspects, I was assisted by BR Somasekhar and by Wg Cdr P Kamaraju.
The committee members included Dr RP Shenoy and Prof. IG Sarma
who were to review the work done on the electronic systems.

We  met at DRDL  on 1 and 2 January 1975, followed by a second
session after about six weeks.  We  visited the various development work
centres and held discussions with the scientists there. I was greatly
impressed by the vision of  A V  Ranga Rao, the dynamism of  WgCdr  R
Gopalaswami, the thoroughness of Dr I  Achyuta Rao, the enterprise of
G Ganesan, S Krishnan’ s clarity of thought and R Balakrishnan’ s critical
eye for detail. The calm of JC Bhattacharya and Lt Col R Swaminathan
in the face of immense complexities was striking. The zeal and application
of Lt Col VJ Sundaram was conspicuous. They were a brilliant, committed
group of people—a mix of service officers and civilian scientists—who
had trained themselves in the areas of their own interest out of their
driving urge to fly an Indian missile.

We  had our concluding meeting towards the end of March 1975 at
Trivandrum.  We  felt that the progress in the execution of the project
was adequate in respect of hardware fabrication to carry out the
philosophy of one-to-one substitution of missile subsystems except in
the liquid rocket area, where some more time was required to succeed.
The committee was of the unanimous opinion that DRDL had achieved
the twin goals of hardware fabrication and system analysis creditably in
the design and development of the ground electronics complex assigned
to them.

We  observed that the one-to-one substitution philosophy had taken
precedence over the generation of design data. Consequently , many
design engineers had not been able to pay adequate attention to the
necessary analysis which was the practice followed by us at VSSC.
The system analysis studies carried out up to then had also been only of
a preliminary nature. In all, the results accomplished were outstanding,
but we still had a long way to go. I recalled a school poem:

Don’t Worry and fret, fainthearted,
The chances have just begun,
For the best jobs haven’ t been started,
The best work hasn’t been done.

The committee made a strong recommendation to the Government
to give Devil a further go-ahead. Our recommendation was accepted
and the project proceeded.

Back home at  VSSC, SLV  was taking shape. In contrast to the DRDL
which was sprinting ahead, we were moving slowly . Instead of following
the leader , my team was trekking towards success on several individual
paths. The essence of our method of work was an emphasis on
communication, particularly in the lateral direction, among the teams
and within the teams. In a way , communication was my mantra for
managing this gigantic project.  To get the best from my team members,
I spoke to them frequently on the goals and objectives of the organization,
emphasizing the importance of each member’s  specific contribution
towards the realization of these goals.  At the same time, I tried to be
receptive to every constructive idea emanating from my subordinates
and to relay it in an appropriate form for critical examination and
implementation. I had written somewhere in my diary of that period:

If you want to leave your footprints
On the sands of time
Do not drag your feet.

MosTof the time, communication gets confused with conversation.
In fact, the two are distinctly different. I was (and am) a terrible
conversationalist but consider myself a good communicator .  A
conversation full of pleasantries is most often devoid of any useful
information, whereas communication is meant only for the exchange of
information. It is very important to realize that communication is a two-
party affair which aims at passing on or receiving a specific piece of
While working on the SLV ,  I used communication to promote
understanding and to come to an agreement with colleagues in defining
the problems that existed and in identifying the action necessary to be
taken to solve them.  Authentic communication was one of the tools
skillfully used in managing the project. How did I do that?  To  begin with,
I tried to be factual and never sugar-coated the bitter pill of facts.  At
one of the Space Science Council (SSC) review meetings, frustrated by
the procurement delays, I erupted into an agitated complaint against the
indifference and red-tape tactics of the controller of accounts and
financial advisor of VSSC. I insisted that the systems of work followed
by the accounts staff had to change and demanded the delegation of
their functions to the project team. Dr Brahm Prakash was taken aback
by the bluntness of my submission. He stubbed out his cigarette and
walked out of the meeting.

I spent the whole night regretting the pain my harsh words had caused
Dr Brahm Prakash. However , I was determined to fight the inertia built
into the system before I found myself being dragged down with it. I
asked myself a practical question: could one live with these insensitive
bureaucrats? The answer was a big no. Then I asked myself a private
question: what would hurt Dr Brahm Prakash more, my seemingly harsh
words now , or the burial of the SLV  at a later stage? Finding my head
and heart agreeing, I prayed to God for help. Fortunately for me, Dr
Brahm Prakash delegated financial powers to the project the next morning.
Anyone who has taken up the responsibility to lead a team can be
successful only if he is sufficiently independent, powerful and influential
in his own right to become a person to reckon with. This is perhaps also
the path to individual satisfaction in life, for freedom with responsibility
is the only sound basis for personal happiness. What can one do to
strengthen personal freedom? I would like to share with you two
techniques I adopt in this regard.

First, by building your own education and skills. Knowledge is a
tangible asset, quite often the most important tool in your work. The
more up-to-date the knowledge you possess, the freer you are.
Knowledge cannot be taken away from anyone except by obsolescence.
A leader can only be free to lead his team if he keeps abreast of all that
is happening around him—in real time.  To  lead, in a way , is to engage in
continuing education. In many countries, it is normal for professionals to
go to college several nights every week.  To  be a successful team leader ,
one has to stay back after the din and clutter of a working day to emerge
better -equipped and ready to face a new day .

The second way is to develop a passion for personal responsibility .
The sovereign way to personal freedom is to help determine the forces
that determine you. Be active! Take on responsibility!  Work for the
things you believe in. If you do not, you are surrendering your fate to
others. The historian Edith Hamilton wrote of ancient Greece, “When
the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility , then
Athens ceased to be free and was never free again”. The truth is that
there is a great deal that most of us can individually do to increase our
freedom.  Were  can combat the forces that threaten to oppress us.  Were
can fortify ourselves with the qualities and conditions that promote
individual freedom. In doing so, we help to create a stronger organization,
capable of achieving unprecedented goals.

As work on the SLV  gained momentum, Prof. Dhawan introduced
the system of reviewing progress with the entire team involved in the
project. Prof. Dhawan was a man with a mission. He would effortlessly
pull together all the loose ends to make work move smoothly .  At  VSSC
the review meetings presided over by Prof. Dhawan used to be
considered major events. He was a true captain of the ISRO ship—a
commander , navigator , housekeeper , all rolled into one.  Y et, he never
pretended to know more than he did. Instead, when something appeared
ambiguous, he would ask questions and discuss his doubts frankly . I
remember him as a leader for whom to lead with a firm, but fair hand,
was a moral compulsion. His mind used to be very firm once it had been
decided on any issue. But before taking a decision, it used to be like clay ,
open to impressions until the final moulding. Then the decisions would
be popped into the potter’s  oven for glazing, never failing to emerge
hard and tough, resistant and enduring.

I had the privilege of spending a great deal of time with Prof. Dhawan.
He could hold the listener enthralled because of the logical, intellectual
acumen he could bring to bear on his analysis of any subject. He had an
unusual combination of degrees—a B.Sc. in Mathematics and Physics,
an M.A. in English Literature, B.E. in Mechanical Engineering, M.S. in
Aeronautical Engineering followed by a Ph.D. in  Aeronautics and
Mathematics from the California Institute of  Technology (Caltech) in

Intellectual debates with him were very stimulating and could always
mentally energize me and my team members. I found him full of optimism
and compassion.  Although he often judged himself harshly , with no
allowances or excuses, he was generous to a fault when it came to
others. Prof. Dhawan used to sternly pronounce his judgments and
then pardon the contrite guilty parties.

In 1975, ISRO became a government body .  An ISRO council was
formed consisting of Directors of different work centers and senior
officers in the Department of Space (DoS). This provided a symbolic
link as well as a forum for participative management between the DoS
which had the Governmental powers and the centres which would
execute the jobs. In the traditional parlance of Government departments,
ISRO’ s centres would have been subordinate units or attached offices,
but such words were never spoken either at ISRO or DoS. Participative
management, which calls for active interaction between those who wield
administrative powers and the executing agencies, was a novel feature
of ISRO management that would go a long way in Indian R&D

The new set-up brought me in contact with TN Seshan, the Joint
Secretary in the DoS.  T ill then, I had a latent reservation about
bureaucrats, so I was not very comfortable when I first saw Seshan
participating in a SLV -3 Management Board meeting. But soon, it changed
to admiration for Seshan, who would meticulously go through the agenda
and always come for the meetings prepared. He used to kindle the minds
of scientists with his tremendous analytical capability .

The first three years of the SLV  project was the period for the
revelation of many fascinating mysteries of science. Being human,
ignorance has always been with us, and always will be. What was new
was my awareness of it, my awakening to its fathomless dimensions. I
used to erroneously suppose that the function of science was to explain
everything, and that unexplained phenomena were the province of people
like my father and Lakshmana Sastry . However, I always refrained
from discussing these matters with any of my scientist colleagues, fearing
that iTwould threaten the hegemony of their meticulously formed views.
Gradually ,I became aware of the difference between science and
technology ,between research and development. Science is inherently
open-ended and exploratory . Development is a closed loop. Mistakes
are imperative in development and are made every day , but each mistake
is used for modification, upgradation or betterment. Probably , the Creator
created engineers to make scientists achieve more. For each time
scientists come up with a thoroughly researched and fully comprehended
solution, engineers show them yet another lumineu, yeTone more
possibility . I cautioned my team against becoming scientists. Science is
a passion—a never -ending voyage into promises and possibilities.  Were
had only limited time and limited funds. Our making the SLV  depended
upon our awareness of our own limits. I preferred existing workable
solutions which would be the best options. Nothing that is new comes
into time-bound projects without its own problems. In my opinion, a project
leader should always work with proven technologies in most of the
systems as far as possible and experiment only from multiple resources.