Koppillil Radhakrishnan Amongst Nature’s 10, Ten people who mattered this year
This wouldn’t have come as surprise, with series of success attributed to ISRO lead by Koppillil Radhakrishnan, this recognition is well deserved. Nature’s 10 is a listing of Ten people who mattered this year across the globe.
Koppillil Radhakrishnan knew the odds were against him when India’s Mangalyaan space probe closed in on Mars this year. As head of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), he was well aware that half of all attempts to reach Mars have ended in failure.
But the ISRO had taken lessons from other countries’ mistakes, and it set modest aims for its first interplanetary mission, which it billed as a technology demonstration. When Mangalyaan settled successfully into Mars orbit on 24 September, India joined the elite group of nations with the ambition and technical capability to explore the Solar System.
In his 43 years as an engineer and manager at the ISRO, Radhakrishnan has led a diverse set of projects, from developing remote-sensing satellites to setting up India’s tsunami-warning system. The Mars mission was a gamble, but it caused less heartache than the ISRO’s work on a cryogenic rocket engine that had failed during a launch in 2010 and finally succeeded this year. “The Mars mission was a slightly more joyous occasion,” he says, while playing down his own role. “I was like a conductor of an orchestra.”
The Mars mission has put the spotlight on Asia’s space ambitions. India plans in the next three years to launch its second Moon mission, and China aims to bring lunar samples back to Earth by 2017.
India’s success this year drew widespread applause. “This is good for India and its economy, demonstrating the ability to develop and implement high-technology enterprises,” says Raymond Arvidson, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Radhakrishnan says that India’s space plans should not be judged against those of other countries: “We are not racing with anyone. We are only racing with ourselves.” But he will soon leave the race. Radhakrishnan will retire at the end of the year, leaving him free to pursue his love for classical South Indian singing and dancing. He has not had much time for that during the ISRO’s hectic pursuit of Mars.
Copyright © 2014, Nature Publishing Group