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Dr S Somnath: A Hindi Teacher’s Son, New ISRO Chairman Was Crucial In PSLV’s Success

Dr S Somanath, ISRO’s new chairman, played a key role in the success of PSLV and will hope to repeat the same in the upcoming Gaganyaan mission. Here’s his inspiring story.

Eminent aerospace engineer and rocket scientist Dr S Somanath has been appointed as the new chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), as well as secretary of the Department of Space for a joint tenure of three years. He succeeds Kailasavadivoo Sivan as the occupant of the position.

Currently the director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC), the scientist’s 30-year career trajectory is full of notable achievements. He played an integral role in the first successful flight of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

In 1994, the much awaited launch was delayed due to an issue in the rocket. Then a young engineer at ISRO, Somanath joined his seniors to resolve the problem. With his help, the rocket went on to perform exceedingly well in a matter of minutes, reports WION.

Born and raised in Alappuzha district of Kerala, Somanath realised his interest in space while pursuing Mechanical Engineering from Kerala University. His father, a Hindi teacher, stood with his son in the journey with constant support.

As a college student, Somanath had specially requested his professor to teach him a course on propulsion — a specific subject in rocketry that is not taught as part of engineering.

He completed the course with second rank and joined the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru for a postgraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering. The gold medalist was recruited by ISRO for the PSLV programme soon after the course.

Somanath is an expert in a host of disciplines including launch vehicle design. He has specialised in launch vehicle systems engineering, structural design, structural dynamics, integration designs and procedures, mechanism design, and pyrotechnics, says an NDTV report.

In 1985, he became the team leader for the integration of the PSLV rocket during its early phases at ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Kerala.

Somanath also played a crucial role in three successful missions of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with indigenous cryogenic stages and eleven successful missions of PSLV.

He is the recipient of the Space Gold Medal from the Astronautical Society of India (ASI), Team Excellence Award-2014 for GSLV Mk-III realisation, and the Performance Excellence Award-2014 from ISRO.

“We work on rockets, not just because they put satellites up there… Rockets are the only means by which humans can travel from the shores of earth to another planet… There is just no other way!” he once told his juniors, as per a WION report.

Apart from being a passionate scientist and engineer, Somanath is a cinephile who was a member of the Film Society in Thiruvananthapuram. He is also an influential public speaker who has spoken at various national and international events, as well as TEDx.

As chairman of ISRO, Somanath’s biggest challenge is to put back the agency’s human space flight programme on track following setbacks due to launch failures, outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and a general slowdown since the failure of the Chandrayaan 2 robotic moon landing mission in September 2019, reports The Indian Express.

Talking about the areas of focus as the new chairman, Somanath said to ANI, “Areas of focus will be technology, policy, implementation and areas where stakeholders need to be taken care of. There are different segments that we need to concentrate on. Looking at the technology side, we are the powerhouse of technology in various disciplines. We need to bring new approach methods so that they can be best utilised.”

Several notable personalities including the Chief Minister of Kerala congratulated the scientist on his new role.

Sources:

NDTV
Wion
Indian Express
ANI

(Edited by Divya Sethu)

Photo credits: Twitter

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