New ISRO chief S Somanath: A problem solver who thinks out of the box

By The Week

I first met him at an Indian Science Congress meet. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was hosting a session. The hall was full. S Somanath, then with the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, began speaking on ISRO’s new missions and vehicles.

He spoke about new launch vehicles and how ISRO was developing a module for a human space flight (this was much before Gaganyaan had been given the green light). Somanath speaks fast, barely pausing for punctuation. Perhaps, it is because he always has so much to say.

The audience sat enraptured as Somanath took them on a fantastical flight into outer space.

Later, they burst into questions, and he fielded them gamely, explaining every concept in a way that even a novice in matters of space and science could comprehend. He was also mobbed by mediapersons, to whose incessant queries he answered untiringly. A year or so later, at another such meet, I passed my visiting card through the melee of media people. He glanced at it, then searched me out in the crowd. “We have met before,” he said. “I haven’t forgotten you.”

Thus started a wonderful acquaintance. Somanath went on to become increasingly busy, as he took on bigger responsibilities and was appointed head the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram.

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