February 21, 2020
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Dr K. Kasturirangan, ISRO

“He had the wisdom and managerial skills to convince the government to invest in rockets,” says K. Raghavan, chief architect of ­satellite systems.

Dr K. Kasturirangan, ISRO
Photograph by Jitender Gupta
Dr K. Kasturirangan, ISRO
  • In February, ISRO launched 104 satellites on a single rocket


If online energies could be harnessed, they’d be ballistic eno­ugh to propel a million rockets. But it does speak of a new buzz: discussions on Quora and elsewhere on how large “our” non-terrestr­ial footprint is. At what the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had managed at a fraction of NASA’s budget. It recently broke Russia’s world record by launching 104 satellites (103 of them nano satellites together weighing just 664 kg) on a single rocket, “shocking” even top Trump admin officials. There was also a trip to Mars “cheaper than an auto ride”. And the moon. Indians in a self-congratulatory orbit about all this would do well to remember the man behind India’s first successful satellite launch vehicle: Dr Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, who headed ISRO for over nine years as chairman before retiring in 2003.      

It was a tenure littered with a comet’s tail of milestones: operationalisation of launch vehicles; development of civilian remote sensing, INSAT communication and ocean observation satellites; foundations for the ASTROSAT satellite project; and conceptualisation of moon mission Chandrayaan-1. “Dr Kasturirangan set the direction for ISRO and helped shift the space programme’s focus from internal concerns to national defence,” says Dr Krishnan Raghavan, a US-based satellite systems chief architect, who worked with him in his early ISRO days. “He had the wisdom and managerial skills to convince the government to invest in rockets. Today, the West can’t compete with our ability to make small satellites.”

An astrophysicist, Kasturirangan’s interests include research in high energy X-ray and gamma ray astronomy as well as optical astronomy. Among the awards (Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Officer of the Legion d’honneur) and official positions (chairman, Space Commission; secretary, Department of Space; chancellor, JNU) linked to his name, there’s also that of ex-member, Planning Commission, where he gave his name to a very terrestrial study, the Western Ghats report.

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