Saturday, February 25, 2012


Here's an episode in Prof. Satish Dhawan's years as ISRO chief:

The early days saw many failures. Through all those difficult times, Dhawan never lost faith in ISRO’s capabilities. He took personal responsibility for failure but when success came, he always attributed it to ISRO and his colleagues. Thus, when the first flight of SLV-3 in 1979 failed, Dhawan faced the press. When the second flight succeeded, Dhawan kept himself in the background while Kalam spoke to the press.

That note is from P.V. Manoranjan Rao's tribute to Dhawan on the latter's 89th birth anniversary. This memorable anecdote came up in a couple of conversations yesterday, and it felt good to be reminded of it again.

A longer version appears in R. Ramachandran's obituary in Frontline.

Abdul Kalam has recounted his experiences when he was the project director for the launch of India's first launch vehicle SLV-3. The first experimental launch of SLV-3 took place on August 10, 1979, but it was a failure. Kalam was called by Dhawan to attend a press conference. "Before the press conference, Professor Dhawan told me that he was going to handle the situation and I should be present with many of the senior scientists and technologists," Kalam has said.

At the press conference Dhawan announced "Friends, today we had our first satellite launch vehicle to put a satellite in the orbit, we could not succeed. It is our first mission of proving multiple technologies in satellite and satellite launch vehicles. In many technologies we have succeeded and a few more we have to succeed. Above all, I realise my team members have to be given all the technological support. I am going to do that and the next mission will succeed."


The next developmental flight, of SLV-3,on July 18, 1980, was a remarkable success. "An important thing happened then," recounts Kalam. "Professor Dhawan asked me to handle the press conference with our team members. Dhawan's management philosophy was that when success comes in after hard work, the leader should give the credit of the success to the team members. When failure comes, the leader should absorb the failures and protect the team members."


  1. Dilip D'Souza said...

    And naturally we must ask: has CNR Rao learned anything from this?

  2. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    Speak for yourself Dilip. "You" may want to ask that. A certain minimum confidence in one's standing is required to opine on whether CNRR has something to learn from something.