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Rocket Scientist, Man Behind Chandrayaan-3: Who Is ISRO Chief S Somanath?

Somanath took over as the tenth ISRO chief in 2022, succeeding K Sivan.

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Video Producer: Mayank Chawla 
Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia

Science is all about learning from past mistakes – and 59-year-old S Somanath and his team have proved that all over again.

"We learned a lot from our failure, and today, we succeeded," the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief said, minutes after Chandrayaan-3 landed on the South Pole of the Moon on Wednesday, 23 August, propelling India to a new height of scientific achievement.

Somanath took over as the tenth ISRO chief in 2022, succeeding K Sivan, who led India's second mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2, in 2019.

While Chandrayaan-2 wasn't a success as its lander crashed on the lunar surface, Somanath was prompt in acknowledging the efforts of his predecessors in his victory speech on Wednesday.

"This is not our work alone, this is the work of a generation of the ISRO leadership and ISRO scientists. This is a journey we started with Chandrayaan-1, continued in Chandrayaan-2 – and all the teams that contributed to Chandrayaan-1 and -2 should be remembered."
ISRO chief Somanath
Somanath took over as the tenth ISRO chief in 2022, succeeding K Sivan.

S Somanath monitoring the landing of Chandrayaan-3.

(Photo: PTI)

A rocket scientist from a small town in Kerala, how did S Somanath rise to India's top space office and become the country's very own 'moon man'?

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Engineer to ISRO Chief – Somanath's Journey

Born in July 1963 at Aroor in Kerala's Alappuzha district, Sreedhara Somanath is the fourth Malayali to become the chairman of the ISRO – after K Kasturirangan, G Madhavan Nair, and K Radhakrishnan.

He was serving as the director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram when he was chosen to head India's space agency in January 2022.

Somanath earned his pre-degree from Maharajas College in Ernakulam. He went on to do mechanical engineering from TK College of Engineering in Kollam and has a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from IISc Bengaluru.

In 1985, he joined the VSSC, where he was involved in the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) mission. He then rose to the position of an associate director (projects) and later, the project director of the GSLV Mk-III launch vehicle.

In January 2018, he took charge as the director of VSSC after K Sivan, who was his predecessor at ISRO too.

Somanath took over as the tenth ISRO chief in 2022, succeeding K Sivan.

S Somanath with K Sivan, former ISRO chief.

(Photo: Twitter)

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'Space Tech for Public Good'

Somanath took over the reins of ISRO at a time when the space agency was undergoing reforms amid a setback posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. There were various projects like Chandrayaan-3 and the Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission on the cards.

Somanath had then told the media he was keen on "hand-holding" the private sector and startups, and working with them for the space sector's progress.

"We have to hold their hand and support them to come up. The idea is that the space ecosystem should become more vibrant, economically viable, and self-sustaining," he had said, as per The Hindu.

Stating that his areas of focus would be technology, policy, and implementation, Somanath had said he wanted to bring down the costs of space operations substantially and had suggested that India must come up with new methods to use available resources in the best possible manner.

"We need to bring new approach methods so that available can be best utilised. There are many new technologies too. We need to bring in newer approaches; have to work with capacity builders like tech companies."
Somanath, as per Business Today

Somanath was one to always bat for using space tech for the common good. "I am following the footsteps of Shri Vikram Sarabhai who envisaged a different trajectory of Indian space research and development. While most nations used space for projecting another dimension of their defence power, India used its achievements to reach scientific benefits to the common man...My mission will be to continue this work," he had said in a 2022 interview with Asianet News.

He had told the publication that ISRO would support those departments in the country that require space technology and contribute more to the service and communication sectors.

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The Chandrayaan-3 Mission

Chandrayaan-3 is aimed at understanding the composition of the moon by analysing the material available on the lunar surface. Ahead of the launch, Somanath had said that the mission is significant "because the Chandrayaan series has made groundbreaking discoveries," as per ABP Live.

"Chandrayaan-1's Moon Impact Probe confirmed the presence of water on the Moon, and Chandrayaan-2's orbiter obtained high-resolution images of the Moon. Chandrayan-3 has scientific benefits. But most importantly, India also needs to have a right in deciding the fate of the moon, with respect to space exploration."
Somanath, in an interview with ABP Live

A day after its launch on 14 July, Somanath, while speaking at a convocation ceremony at IIT-Hyderabad, said that the rocket is "like a baby" to him.

"As an engineer and scientist, I have a love for rockets. I consider the rocket like a baby, seeing its birth, its growth, its problems of growth, its emotions, and developing a deep understanding of its mechanics and dynamics and its life as such," Somanath said, as per Business Today.

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Topics:  ISRO   Chandrayaan mission   ISRO Chairman 

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