Amid Chandrayaan heartbreak, remembering what Dr. Kalam said about failures
From enthusiasm to somber, India, and more importantly, the scientists at ISRO, went through a lot last night. Vikram lander of Chandrayaan-2 was supposed to land smoothly on the moon, but merely two kilometers away from the lunar surface it lost contact. Amid this setback, which evoked tears, it's important to remember what India's missile man Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam said about failures.
Context: Vikram started its descent perfectly, then lost contact
After taking off from Sriharikota space station on July 22 and maneuvering for weeks, Vikram lander was all set to land softly. ISRO aimed for the moon's southern pole, a territory no other country has ever been to. The initial phases of Vikram's descent were seamless, but as it neared climax, it lost contact with ISRO. The answer to "why it happened" isn't clear.
Years ago, India's satellite crashed when Dr. Kalam was director
As India lends sympathy and goodwill to ISRO, it's important to reflect on Dr. Kalam's words. The former President once spoke about the SLV-3 crash of 1979. The intention of the mission was to put the satellite into the orbit and Dr. Kalam was the project director. Professor Satish Dhawan was the chairman of the space organization at the time.
In 2013, Dr. Kalam spoke about SLV-3 failure
Talking about the sour experience, Dr. Kalam said in 2013 that professionals gave 10 years to the project. He said as the project director it was his job to put the satellite into the orbit. "The countdown was going on...T-4 minutes, T-3 minutes, T-2 minutes, T-1 minute, T-40 seconds. And the computer put it on hold... don't launch it," Dr. Kalam recalled.
Despite unfavorable signals, Dr. Kalam went ahead with launch
Dr. Kalam ignored the computer's warning as scientists told him they had confidence in calculations. "I bypassed the computer and launched the system. There are four stages before the satellite is launched. The first stage went off well, and in the second stage, it got mad. It went into a spin. Instead of putting the satellite in orbit, it put it into the Bay of Bengal," he added.
How to manage failure, Dr. Kalam thought back then
He then added, "First time I faced failure... And how to manage failure? Success I can manage, but how to manage failure?" The outcome, notwithstanding, Dhawan held a press conference and took the fall, Dr. Kalam disclosed. "He took all the blame and assured that next year we would succeed because his team was a very good one," Dr. Kalam added.
A year later, Dr. Kalam led a successful mission
Like Dhawan promised, the same team led by Dr. Kalam successfully launched Rohini RS-1 into the orbit on July 18, 1980. That day, Dhawan asked Dr. Kalam to address the media. "When failure occurred, the leader of the organization owned that failure. When success came, he gave it to his team," Dr. Kalam said, adding that this was the best management lesson he learned.