Dr. Koppillil Radhakrishnan is former Chairman of ISRO and Secretary of the Department of Space. Currently based in Bangalore, he is the Chairman of the Standing Committee of IIT Council besides being Honorary Distinguished Advisor in the Department of Space/ISRO. Radhakrishnan received the Padma Bhushan Award for his contribution to Science and Engineering.
It is my singular privilege to portray the transformative leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji for India’s ascends in the frontiers of space technology. Notably, in India, the Prime Minister is in direct charge of the Department of Space. Modi ji granted me an audience of fifteen minutes on 29 May 2014, his third day at office. He raptly listened to a presentation titled ‘India in Space – Extending Limits and Exploring Possibilities’ and followed up with several sharp questions. His passion and insights into the prospects and potential of space technology were quite evident; he had already brought up the State of Gujarat as a role model of space applications. What more the space sector of India could have expected?
Within a month in office, the Prime Minister was at India’s spaceport Sriharikota taking a detailed review of the space activities, interacting with functionaries and at our side while PSLV lofted five foreign satellites (on 30 June 2014). In the stirring address thereafter, he emphasised the synergistic role of space technology and tools in governance and development process, and urged the Department of Space to pro-actively engage with all stakeholders for its maximal utilisation. Also, Prime Minister had asked the Indian Space community to (a) take up the challenge of developing a SAARC Satellite – that we can dedicated to our neighbourhood, as a gift from India and (b) enlarge the footprint of our satellite-based navigation system to cover all of South Asia. He kept a close watch on them till fruition.
At the national meet on ‘Promoting Space Technology based Tools and applications in Governance and Development’ held in September 2015, the landscape of space applications formally transcended to 60 central ministries (from hitherto 15) and all States, with several new domains of space applications. The NavIC ( an acronym coined by him) constellation realised by 2016 and the South Asia Satellite GSAT-9 orbited in 2017, became powerful means for regional cooperation in space.
Prime Minister had been keenly monitoring India’s first planetary probe, Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM aka Mangalyaan) on its traverse for the crucial orbit insertion by 24 September 2014. Updated about possibilities of a ‘Plan B’ as the D-day was nearing, he showed a rare gesture to be amongst the mission operations team. After the historic address to the world on the success of India’s first probe in the first attempt, Prime Minister Modi ji invited and ignited millions of young minds into his vision. As a true leader, Modi ji stood firmly and affectionately by ‘Team ISRO’ a year ago, when the final leg of Chandrayaan-2 mission did not materialise as planned.
Under Modi ji’s sterling leadership, India achieved many historic feats in space technology, significantly , the advanced launcher GSLV Mk3 and capability for building world-class satellites for communication, navigation, remote sensing, astronomy and space science. His relentless efforts in using space for strategic imperatives have been bearing rich fruits in the recent years. All through, Modi ji proved to be a quick learner of new technologies and their utility. India’s impactful ASTROSAT mission, and the forthcoming Aditya mission underscore his outlook on the relevance of space research to gain new knowledge, about the humanity and for the humanity. The highlight, however is that Modi ji gained a place in history by the stunning pronouncement of 15 August 2018 on India’s foray into the Human Spaceflight, starting with ‘Gaganyaan’ mission. The success of Gaganyaan will elevate India’s credentials for a rightful role in human-based space exploration that the global space community aims for the next 20-30 years.
World is now at the dawn of a ‘new space age’ accentuated by a new breed of space-protagonists besides the paradigms of a multipolar world, exponential advances in technology and growing commercial space economy. The recent structural interventions and reforms of Indian space sector had the benefit of Modi ji’s forethoughts to leverage on national synergy in the five facets of ‘new space age viz. space exploration, exploration of celestial resources, a vibrant space enterprise, self-reliant space technology and engineering as well as engagement of space capabilities for human well-being and security.
Over the past six years, Prime Minister Modi Ji adeptly nurtured and guided India’s space capabilities to global prominence while ensuring for the nation an unprecedented tool for development, scientific exploration, governance, diplomacy and strategic engagements. Personally for me, it was a memorable and pleasant experience to function under his sterling leadership for the last seven months of my tenure.