Space scientist extraordinaire
Science has always challenged man's limits in his quest for knowledge. Geology revealed the layered story of Earth from millions of years ago, biology discovered microcosms in a cell, physics found a universe in an atom and cryogenics helped mankind in space science. Outer space always remained a fascination for Dr Nambi Narayanan, India's 'rocket scientist' whose achievements have been pathbreaking.
In an recent interview, Dr Narayanan spoke about his journey in astrophysics, India's satellite technology, charges of espionage and the possibility of extra terrestrial life.
As a young boy in a village in India's southern state of Kerala, Dr Narayanan was fascinated by the starry constellations he would see in night skies. The young mind had many questions. He had to seek answers and go beyond. This was the start of his journey.
This journey saw him immensely contribute to India's rocket science – some major achievements being sending satellites Chandrayaan – 1, Mangalyaan and other PSLVs into orbit during his stint with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) using the Vikas engine - and come to be fondly known as India's 'rocket scientist'. He is known for developing the liquid propulsion technology for rockets. His work on cryogenics (the science of the production and behaviour of materials at very low temperatures) encountered several hurdles including charges of espionage (of which he was cleared).
“There were conspiracies around me (and) that actually motivated me to move forward. But I lost time and so did the country. It is true that the media started all without any sense of fair journalism but it was media only later that helped me.” He was “harassed” and later given a clean chit, but he says the politics messed up his life.
“With the successful satellites in the orbit, we were happy but somehow I felt that these achievements could had been done much better. India has so many researchers and scientists but we are not treated as celebrities and only when there is a controversy that we are brought to the front.
“This is the sad reality. I was hounded and scorned for no fault of mine. All I and my colleagues wanted to see the moon and its crust closely. And we got harassment for 15 years. But our work went on and we discovered methods that reduced the cost of expeditions by millions. We were criticised but the satellites from ISRO paved the way to a universe that was truer, brighter and stocked with infinite knowledge. I still regret the loss of time and perhaps will not forgive those people; but my quest about the universe is sill on.”
What are his beliefs on the possibility of alien life in the universe?
“With so many stars in the massive universe, I am sure that there is life beyond Earth. There is a big possibility that there might exist life which is superior to us but several light years beyond Earth.”
His inspirations are Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, India's former president, a space scientist himself with whom Dr Narayanan once worked, and Professor C Kothandaraman, who inspired him to become a scientist.
Dr Narayanan loves reading. “I enjoy reading scientific material, especially on space programmes and research work done by European countries, China and the NASA.”