New Delhi: India woke up to images of ISRO chief K. Sivan breaking down and wiping his tears on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shoulder, after the space agency lost contact with the Vikram lander of Chandrayaan-2 in the early hours of Saturday, minutes before it was expected to make a soft landing.
Sivan’s emotions are a reminder of how passion drove a humble Tamil Nadu farmer’s son to lead India’s most ambitious and complex space mission so far.
Born on 14 April 1957 in a village in Tamil Nadu, Sivan was the first in his family to graduate from college. He studied at a Tamil medium school and has often said that he wore footwear for the first time only when he went to college at the Madras Institute of Technology.
From PSLV to GSLV
Kailasavadivoo Sivan started working with ISRO in 1982, after he got his Master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru.
He began his career working on the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), India’s space workhorse that has launched India’s first lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1, first interplanetary mission, the Mars orbiter, and India’s first space observatory, Astrosat.
Rising through the ranks, Sivan became the director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, in 2015, and subsequently came to be called “Rocket Man” because of his contributions in the development of cryogenic engines.
The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III — India’s most powerful rocket that successfully launched the Chandrayaan-2 mission in July — runs on cryogenic engines.
Sivan was appointed the chief of ISRO in January 2018. It is under his chairmanship that ISRO planned and executed Chandrayaan-2.
Irrespective of the fate of the Vikram lander, the mission orbiter will continue to send back valuable data to Earth, revealing unknown insights from our natural satellite.
Images from the mission, and possibly the landing site, will eventually inform scientists about what went wrong, and help ISRO prepare for its next mission.