Indian scientists from ISRO are here — to answer all your burning questions about India’s premier (and if these guys have it right, incredibly fun to work at!) space agency.
They did an unofficial AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit recently — a Q&A session open to the public. Here are some of the responses we loved:
1. When they pointed out the right way to show support:
“Pay your taxes.”
2. When they highlighted an underrated ISRO project:
“Everything NRSC does, basically. Just go to their site and look at all the disaster management (or other) remote sensing work they do!”
NRSC is the National Remote Sensing Centre, Hyderabad, and this is their website.
3. When they had this answer to someone who asked them the purpose of a “huge” crane on top of one of their buildings:
“It does what a crane does: lifts objects.”
4. When they outlined a typical day in the life of an ISRO software engineer:
Short answer: like a day in the life of any other software engineer.
“Not very different from any other programmer’s except for the fact that there is a slight lag in the adoption of new technologies. This is partly due to heritage inertia and partly due to the fact that function is preferred over form. If it ain’t broke…
It also depends on the kind of work you get. Development is always exciting. So is stuff like implementing a new network end-to-end, which will push you to learn stuff way beyond what you’ve previously been comfortable with.”
5. When they provided this realistic assessment of the pure science job industry in India:
“Do or do not, there is no job safety (in pure sciences, if you don’t want to be a prof)”
This is something we’re hoping can change!
6. When they told us what working at ISRO feels like:
“The force is strong with this organisation (plus 7th CPC makes things slightly better for the wallet too).”
7. When they were asked about any changes in ISRO’s relationship with the new government:
“Positive. Mostly to do with focus on 5 year targets and increasing number of launches of PSLV/GSLV and ‘productionisation'”
8. When they shared their vision for the future of ISRO:
“I think ISRO, like any other conscious organisation seeking to minimise waste and costs, should start looking at individual tasks like services and should either extradite non essential processes to the private sector or form a separate, faster production entity for it. ISRO should not do things because it has done them or because it can do them. ISRO should do them if no one else can do it for ISRO or because no one else can do it cheaper.
In doing this, the focus will inevitably shift to research and talent will be better allocated too. The best minds shall be decoupled from the routine and put to good use in challenging tasks and situations.”
9. When they told us something (anything!) about the human spaceflight programme:
“Human Space Flight is going to the initial process of prototyping and testing”
10. When they gave this answer to someone who asked them if ISRO and DRDO had a joint programme:
“If I tell you, I will have to kill you.”
Don’t be so darned adorable, you folks at ISRO!
11. When someone asked them how many hours scientists put in for the Mars Orbiter Mission — and they gave this amazing answer:
“18-20 hours part, true. In fact it doesn’t end there. Some people worked 18-20 hours. More people worked 14-16 hours and even more people worked for 10-12 hours. You get the idea. The primary motivation was the opportunity of working on something larger than yourself, larger than life and the opportunity to contribute towards that something large, however small the contribution itself may be. We knew that every improvement and test, every component and process, every circuit and line of code was the responsibility of its contributor and only if executed to perfection, could lead to the success that MOM became given the constraints we had. A budget crippled organisation of an experience lacking nation on a tight schedule pulling off an impossible feat in the first attempt: we wanted to be a part of that story. Of course better paying jobs are out there, and of course there are spells of doubt. But in this line of work, motivation is not hard to find. Space is an inviting endlessness where the innate human desire to explore meets uncertainty and hostility: it is my definition of an adventure.”
YES, ANONYMOUS ISRO SCIENTIST! We can truly think of nothing more adventurous than exploring the mysterious and awesome depths of space.
12. When they had this exciting (and we’re hoping… realistic) answer to what space progress should look like:
“10 years: Robotic base on Mars
20 years: Human base on Mars, scaling of ion propulsion
30 years: Colonisation of Mars, cheaper launches, space tourism becomes routine
40 years: We finally start doing something substantial about the space debris problem, Space mining for real
50 years: Spotting an exoplanet to explore by a probe, space bungalow (complete with a study) for parking my retired behind.”
Owning a space bungalow is now also my long-term goal.
13. When they spoke about the ISRO “lifestyle”:
“Lifestyle? I’m as simple and normal as just about anyone else. It is true that there are a lot of dedicated people working at this organisation. The kind of culture that exists in ISRO pushes it’s employees into a perpetual competition with each other. But reaching a goal always demands a group of people working together. The amount of co-ordination that goes between different divisions of an ISRO unit, units of a ISRO centre and different centres is amazing even though there’s room for disagreement. It is this spirit of teamwork that keeps the company moving. And regarding hopelessness or rather work stress, it is very much advisable to convert challenges into opportunities. I work out to reduce stress and that helps a lot besides making you physically healthier. There are other ways too. The best advice is to be as frugal and efficient as possible.”
14. And finally, when they told us the best part about working at ISRO:
Quoting this in the middle of conversations – It’s
Thanks, guys! You do us proud every day.
You can read the entire AMA here.