Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam: Former President of India
  Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam    
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18-11-2002 : Thiruvanandapuram

I am indeed delighted to be with ISRO community at Vikram Sarabhai Space center Thiruvanandapuram and deliver the first memorial lecture of Prof. Satiish Dhawan. I cherish all the great memories in spending twenty years with all of you. I walked with you in the valley hills and Thumba beach, shared our dreams, lessons of failures and excitements of successes. I witnessed the growth of ISRO from those days of MET rocket launching from Thumba to the mighty SLV3. Now you have further grown to launch mightier PSLV and GSLV injecting IRS and INSAT III class of satellites.

When I was recently with a group of students, we watched together a set of displays, including SLV-3, PSLV and GSLV models to the same scale. As children are always innocent, one child quipped "uncle! Were you doing such a small project"? Friends! I was thrilled at the statement of the child as it spontaneously reflected the enormous rate of progress of the technology. It is also so nice and fulfilling to note the stupendous performance of the further generation of engineers/technicians /staff. 40 kg was the capability of SLV-3 in low earth orbit and the capability of GSLV in such orbit is more than 125 times. How were such achievements in a forefront, which is the exclusive domain of only six nations made possible? It is by the sustained effortsof all of you with strong leadership. Institutional framework is very much important to growth of organisations and delivering results. India has made great strides in national resource management through space technology only because almost every department of Government of India, industries, academic institutions and several nongovernmental organisations are networked in these efforts. What a great leap forward.

At this hour I cannot forget our Guru's, the visionary leaders, who influenced my thoughts and deeds. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Prof. Satish Dhawan and Dr. Brahm Prakash. Today, I would like to share with you my thoughts on professor Satish Dhawan in this memorial lecture, which I always cherish.

Satish Dhawan was a distinguished academisian, a great leader of technology, a builder of Institutions, a philosopher, and integrater of minds, and above all a magnanimous human being. He electrified ISRO towards unified effort to achieve great missions. He laid a strong foundation of space technology above personalities and at the same time encouraged younger leaders to come to lime light. He systematically planned and evolved ISRO missions integrating launch vehicles, satellites and application programs, and infrastructure build-up. Today we see ISRO as a successful organization benefiting the society. What a great leadership.

Role Model Leadership

When I think of Prof. Dhawan, many incidences come to my mind. I would like to share with you again, one important incident, which is a valuable lesson to the younger generation. Friends, many of you know about the first experimental launch of SLV3 on 10th August 1979. The vehicle took-off beautifully at T-0 and the first stage gave predicted performance. The second stage was initiated, but within a few seconds we witnessed the vehicle in a tumbling motion and we lost the flight to the Bay of Bengal. It was 8 am in the morning. The whole team inspite of all its day and night hard work and sweat, they were busy in collecting the data and was trying to establish the reason for the flight failure. Meanwhile, I was called by Prof Satish Dhavan to attend a press conference. Before the press conference, Prof. Satish Dhawan told me he is going to handle the situation and I should be present with many of the senior scientists and technologists. The press conference room was full with media. There was gloom , many questions were posed, some very powerful, thoughtful and also criticisms. Prof Satish Dhawan, announced " Friends, today we had the experimental launch of SLV3 to put ROHINI satellite in the orbit. It was a partial success. It is our first mission of proving multiple technologies in a launch vehicle. We have proved many technologies in this launch but still we have to prove some more. We have tumbled but not fallen flat. Above all I realise my team members have to be given all the technological support for the next mission to succeed". Subsequently, a failure analysis board was formed to establish the cause.

Now I will move to the second mission of SLV-3 that took place on 18th July 1980. It was 6.30 in the morning. The whole nation's attention was towards the SHAR launch complex, now named after Prof. Satish Dhawan as a great tribute to him. The mission teams were busy and computer took over the flight sequence from T-4 minutes. At T-0 the vehicle took off and we witnessed a text book trajectory. After nearly 600 secs of the flight I realised every stage has given the required velocity including the 4th stage. I made an announcement, "Mission Director calling all stations. The SLV-3 has given the required velocity and right altitude to put Rohini satellite in the orbit. Our down range stations and global stations will get the orbit of the satellite within an hour". There was a thunderous applause from all the stations and visitors gallery.

The most important thing happened then. Prof Satish Dhawan asked me to handle the press conference with our team members. The message I would like to convey is, When success comes in after hard work the leader should give the credit of the success to the team members. When failure comes the leaders should absorb the failures and protect the team members. I could not get this beautiful, technological education of failure management in any of the text books written by any of the Harvard or any of the management institutes at that time.


Noble Leadership

I recall in 1947, at the dawn of our freedom, we had the best of leaders in science, in technology, in history, in politics and in industry. One incident I would like to narrate to you which fascinated me when I was a young boy. On 15th August 1947, my high school teacher Rev. Iyyadorai Solomon took me to hear the mid-night freedom speech of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. We were all thrilled when Panditji spoke that the mission was achieved. On the next day, that is on 16th August 1947, I had a great experience. An experience of best of education I can think of. In the Tamil newspaper, on the front page, two news items appeared. One item was India achieving freedom and Panditji's speech. The other news item and the most important one which has been embedded in my memory is about Mahatma Gandhiji walking barefoot in Naokali, removing the pain of riot affected families. Normally as Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi has to be the first to unfurl the national flag on August 15, 1947 in Red Fort. But he was not there at the Red Fort, instead he was at Naokali. Mahatma Gandhi was an embodiment of nobility, elevated thinking and concern for human beings. What an everlasting positive impact in the mind of a school boy??




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