So happy to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi consoling the ISRO scientists. This sight will always be etched in my memory. It also means a lot for the entire scientific community to know that there is support at the highest levels when things don’t seem to go well. This is a very positive sign for Indian science and scientists.
However, if I were a scientist in ISRO, I would be a bit of a worried person for the following reasons.
1. Scientists cannot work under so much of media glare. It distracts them and makes them lose focus. These activities need 100 per cent focus.
2. It causes inter-personal problems in the organisations. When success (or failure) gets so glorified, who gets the credit (or the blame) becomes an issue. It can alter the work culture in organisations for worse.
3. We know that failure rates are going to be invariably high in space programmes. You test things on earth and expect them to work in space. The younger generation and the public in general may not appreciate frequent failures and may start to question the whole purpose of taking up such missions.
4. It may hamper ISRO’s ability to take up risky projects and launch complex missions, which may have a higher rate of failure.
5. All communications are wireless. There is always a chance for sabotage. No wireless system can be made fully secure.
Let’s celebrate the outcomes publicly, but only after the event has concluded. Raising the public expectations too much for such complex missions, before and during the event, can be counter-productive in the long run. No scientific project can be designed to succeed. We can only plan for fewer failures. Also, if all our projects succeed, it only means that we are not choosing the right projects and not keeping the bar high.
If we want to celebrate science, there is so much happening in other institutions, too. DRDO, DAE, IITs, IISc and many of our premier institutions are no less successful. Media should divert its attention from ISRO a bit. It will do ISRO and the nation a lot of good.
The author is Director, IIT-Delhi.
This article has been reproduced from his Facebook post. Views are personal.