He is a film buff, and has offered to sit for a session dedicated only to discussing film dialogues—be they from potboilers or classics, Akira Kurosawa or Adoor Gopalakrishnan. S. Somanath, 58, the chief of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) himself has a cine star flamboyance about him, with his thick mop of hair, dark moustache and stylish mannerisms. Unlike the stereotypical scientist, he is an excellent, if breathlessly fast-paced, communicator, who can convince not just top decision makers about a proposal, but explain rocket science to school students in a way that they see themselves flying out in a spaceship.
The rock-star personality hides the keen mind of a rocket scientist and aerospace engineer that has made him ISRO’s go-to trouble-shooter. Whether it was fixing a last minute issue with the first PSLV launch in 1994 or detecting the helium leak in the GSLV Mk III rocket for Chandrayaan-2 in 2019, Somanath was part of the team.
He takes over at a time when India is entering a new age in space, opening up for private enterprise. At the same time, ISRO itself is emerging from the setbacks of the pandemic. He has the task of flying Indian astronauts into orbit and landing a probe on the moon. Here is Somanath, himself, in conversation with THE WEEK:
Q/What will be your top priorities as you take charge? There appears to be a lot of unfinished work at ISRO.
A/No, there is no unfinished work. There are new works which require to be done. I believe work is progressing everywhere—it starts, continues and gets finished. So, there is work in progress, nothing is unfinished. There are new works which require to be done. But that is only one part of the activity.
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