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The men who'll power India's dream to moon

CNN-IBN
Oct 21, 2008 at 11:20am IST

Bangalore: In many ways, Chandrayaan is all about telling the world that India has arrived and India can do it.

But as much as it's about the technology, the scientific challenge, it's also about the men and women behind the mission - people for whom even the sky is not the limit.

Mayilsamy Annadurai is the Project Director of Chandrayaan, and one of the most unassuming scientists you will find.

He didn't lave his native Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu until he had finished his Masters degree, and even today, he's no glib rocket scientist.

But he is the man who has led nearly 3,000 scientists and engineers from across the world to make this dream real.

“I used to tell we're being paid for work that we're enjoying. I don't think many places, for the work they get salary but we're getting salary for an enjoyable thing. We feel pleasure working. We feel when spacecraft is coming down, people feel this motherly attitude: as if your baby is coming out,” he says.

If anyone knows Annadurai well, it's his wife Vasanthi. She has seen him work tirelessly for years, coming home after a long day only to sit at his computer again to discuss Chandrayaan with associates in other countries.

To this day, she files away every mention of her husband's achievements.

“Even when he was younger, he used to spend many hours on the terrace, lying down and gazing at the moon for hours on end. I used to warn him that he may catch a cold, but he wouldn't care,” says Annadurai’s wife Vasanthi.

If Annadurai is the village lad who made it big, P Sreekumar is his opposite.

The chief scientist of the instruments that will be used in the moon experiments is an IIT graduate with a doctorate from the US, who came back home to follow his swadesi dreams.

“It was not a difficult decision. I always wanted to come back to India. I think ISRO provides a nice environment to provide opportunities, rising opportunities for doing experiments in science than may be any part of the world,” he says.

For all the excitement the project is generating, it's not without its risks. India's most thrilling experiment with space relies on zero error.

At the Sriharikota launch station, the time tested polar satellite launch vehicle is almost ready to travel to its farthest destination - 4 lakh km away.

Two years back, this launch-pad saw the crash of a launch vehicle seconds after lift-off because of a 0.1 mm defect in one engine.

There have been successes since, but scientists here are always alive to the possibility of something going terribly wrong.

For many years now, before any satellite is launched, a model is sent to Tirupati to get the divine nod. Because world class scientists they may be, but these scientists say there's also a greater power at work.

“if you take the global scenario 10 to 15 per cent chance of failure is there, so there is risk you are taking, but that risk has to be taken with the full knowledge of the total technology and total thing is involved, and humanly possible we will do remaining ok we will have to wait and see you can call it whether it is God, luck or fate or whatever it is but there is risk and that's where we stands to,” says ISRO chairman Madhvan Nair.

Agrees, Sreekumar, “Yes I do have that feeling that there's something in nature we're yet to understand, that we're still investigating but I don't think that's contradicting any aspect of science.”

“Normally people don' t like Tuesdays. I did not know, I cleared many packages on Tuesdays but on statistics, people said they don't like to do that. That's just an example.. I don't have superstitions. Though I'm religious, normally, I read the Gita daily. It's a part of my life from BE first year onwards but I don't have superstitions,” says Annadurai.

Tales abound about scientists the world over who carried lucky coins or ate lucky ground nuts during every mission. Well, scientists will have their quirks.

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