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Obituary: UR Rao – pioneering satellite technologist and proponent of ‘ISRO Culture’



UR Rao

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]~By Dinesh C Sharma

The Indian Space Research Organistaion (ISRO) is today counted among the best space agencies globally. Much of the credit for this goes to UR Rao who helped the agency master technology for making complex communication, weather and remote sensing satellites with limited resources and difficult circumstances such as technology denial.

Having started his career as a doctoral student of Vikram Sarabhai in 1954 at Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad, Udupi Ramachandra Rao spent his scientific career spanning almost half a century for developing and nurturing the Indian space programme. After a brief stint in America as a postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Rao returned to India at the behest of Sarabhai.

Throughout the 1960s, Sarabhai was feverishly trying to put together a plan for developing space technology applications in India after having successfully set up the sounding rocket facility at Thumba in Kerala. He asked Rao, who had worked on spacecraft systems while being at NASA, to prepare a blueprint for development of space technology in India. Then he asked Rao to implement the plan. The rest of Rao’s life was spent in doing so, beginning with the fabrication of India’s first satellite – Aryabhata – launched in April 1975.

Aryabhata, weighing 358 kg, was built from scratch by a young team of engineers and scientists put together by Rao at a newly created facility in the Peenya industrial estate in Bangalore. The facility later became the ISRO Satellite Centre with Rao as its founding director. The Soviets launched Aryabhata from the Kapustin Yar Cosmodrome, without charging any fee, purely as a friendly gesture. This was followed by launch of Bhaskara 1 and 2, and Rohini series of satellites.

If Aryabhata got a free launch from the Soviet Union, the first experimental communication satellite – Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment (APPLE) – was launched for free on a development flight of Ariane vehicle of European Space Agency (ESA) from Kourou in 1981.

The American media ridiculed India’s foray into space when it was ridden with other problems as poverty. News weekly, Newsweek, carried a picture of APPLE being transported from the hanger to test center in a bullock cart with a caption ‘Collision of Centuries’. Many years later, Rao explained in an interview why the satellite was carried on a bullock cart: “We had to ship the satellite for EMC (Electromagnetic Interference/Capability) testing, and trucks made of metals were throwing off reflections that were affecting the satellite’s antenna. Then somebody hit on the idea of a bullock cart, which is made of wood. It worked perfectly.” 

With the experience gained from building experimental satellites in the 1970s, Rao came up with an ambitious idea of building larger communication, remote sensing and multi-purpose satellites with practical applications. Thus were born the legendary series of Indian satellites in the 1980s – the INSAT (Indian National Satellite) and IRS (India Remote Sensing Satellite) – which provided communication, broadcasting, weather and earth observation services to a variety of Indian users. Thus within two decades, Rao could demonstrate the applicability of space technology for national development, as envisioned by his mentor Sarabhai. This is despite the problems Rao was facing in the 1980s with successive failures of Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV).

In all, over 20 satellites were designed and launched under his guidance. Besides laying the foundation for self-reliance in satellite building, Rao is credited with building a new way of executing complex technology project – which many call the ‘ISRO Culture’. All space projects are complex, challenging, multi-disciplinary, time-critical, and – in the case of India – have to be executed with limited budget. Rao mastered this art. Leveraging his experience of working with NASA, Rao introduced a matrix management structure for managing projects by ensuring optimal use of available resources. The ISRO culture encompasses decentralized decision making for technology development, systems engineering, quality assurance, peer review and thorough failure assessment. Actually this is what differentiates ISRO from other scientific agencies in India.   

Rao came from a humble background. He was born in Udupi in Karnataka. “I saw a train for the first time when I had to go to Bellary for Intermediate. I had never seen a train because no trains used to come to Udupi. They used to come to Mangalore, which is about 58 km from Udupi. Udupi was a taluka at that time, but there were four rivers, at each river you had to take a boat to cross and then take another one. It was a big effort going to Bangalore from Udupi,” Rao had recalled in an interview a few years ago.

He first thought of space technology while doing M. Sc. at Banaras Hindu University. “I said I wanted to be a space scientist. I was not sure my own professor would have welcomed it because at that time space was not a hot subject, but I had a dream. The main thing is we must dream and then you have to just dedicate yourself for that.” (India Science Wire)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

India News

PM Modi says change in government certain in Chhattisgarh

According to PM Modi, the second Parivartan Yatra was launched from Jashpur in north Chhattisgarh on September 15 while the first one left Dantewada in south Chhattisgarh on September 12.



PM Modi

On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the closing ceremony of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) two Parivartan Yatras in Bilaspur. This is PM Modi’s third trip to the state, which is governed by the Congress and will host assembly elections later this year.

The Prime Minister attacked the Bhupesh Baghel-led governance during a public rally by claiming that Chhattisgarh is steeped in corruption and misrule. Every plan of the Congress government contains a fraud.

According to PM Modi, the second Parivartan Yatra was launched from Jashpur in north Chhattisgarh on September 15 while the first one left Dantewada in south Chhattisgarh on September 12.

Before reaching their conclusion in Bilaspur, both yatras covered a distance of more than 3,000 km over 87 assembly segments (out of the total 90), he said, and included 83 Swagat Sabhas (welcome gatherings), four roadshows, and several public meetings.

The Maoist-affected districts of Bijapur, Sukma, and Antagarh are not on the schedule, although residents from these districts participated in the yatra when it went through their neighbouring districts.

The party officials and employees spirits were unaffected by the rain, he said, and they joyfully took part in the two yatras, which attracted a large number of people.

According to Sao, who expressed confidence that the Congress will be defeated in the 2019 elections, the two yatras, in which almost 50 lakh people participated, have converted the tide of change into a storm.

The program’s location has been heavily fortified with security, according to the police. There will be a total of 1,500 security personnel deployed, including police officers, members of the Special Protection Group (SPG), members of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force, and members of the National Security Guard (NSG).

According to a police, a three-kilometer radius around the city has been designated a no-fly zone, and anti-drone weaponry have also been deployed in anticipation of the PM’s visit.

The Congress gave the BJP, which had been in power for 15 years under Raman Singh, a crushing loss in the 2018 assembly elections. The BJP had only won 15 seats, while the Congress had won 68. There are 71 seats in the current Congress.

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India News

Punjab: Farmer’s rail roko protest enters 3rd day, disrupts train services

Many trains have been cancelled, short-terminated, or diverted as a result of the unrest, according to railway officials.



Punjab Farmer

The rail roko protest of Punjabi farmers demanding MSP legal protection, a broad debt relief, and compensation for crops damaged in the recent floods began its third day today.

Many trains have been cancelled, short-terminated, or diverted as a result of the unrest, according to railway officials.

As part of their three-day agitation, the farmers have been blocking railway tracks at various locations in Faridkot, Samrala, Moga, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur, Jalandhar, Tarn Taran, Sangrur, Patiala, Ferozepur, Bathinda, and Amritsar since Thursday.

In Punjab and Haryana, the protest has halted hundreds of rail passengers.

A train passenger at the Ludhiana station claimed that he had travelled by road from Jalandhar City in order to board a train to Gorakhpur, but the arrival time of the train was unknown.

Another passenger at the station claimed that the Amritsar-bound train that was scheduled to carry 12 members of his family to Bihar had to be cancelled due to the unrest.

Later, they discovered that the family had journeyed by road from Amritsar and that the train would leave from Ludhiana. He continued, however, there has still been no update on the train.

According to officials, the Ambala and Ferozepur railway divisions have suffered specifically as a result of the farmers’ unrest.

The Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, Bharti Kisan Union (Krantikari), Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Azaad), Azaad Kisan Committee, Doaba, Bharti Kisan Union (Behramke), Bharti Kisan Union (Shaheed Bhagat Singh), and Bharti Kisan Union (Chottu Ram) are among the farmer organisations taking part in the three-day demonstration.

The angry farmers have stated that the three-day protest will end on Saturday.

Their requests include a financial aid package for those in north India hit by floods, a statutory guarantee of the minimum support price (MSP) for all crops, and a farmer debt forgiveness programme.

The Swaminathan Commission report’s proposals for MSP and a 50,000 crore flood relief package for the states of northern India are what the farmers are asking for.

In addition, they want the debt of all farmers and labourers to be forgiven, as well as compensation of Rs 10 lakh and a government job for the families of each farmer killed during the protests against the three farm laws that have since been repealed.

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India News

Sankalp Saptaah: PM Modi today launches week-long initiative for aspirational blocks at Bharat Mandapam

The country’s Sankalp Saptah programme, which is being implemented in 500 aspirational blocks throughout 329 districts, seeks to increase block-level government while also improving civilian quality of life.



Sankalp Saptaah

At Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced a week-long project named Sankalp Saptaah for the country’s aspirational groups.

He also conversed with attendees, including members from the panchayat and the block level.

The week-long programme, which is described in an official news release, is closely correlated with the national Aspirational Blocks Programme (ABP), which Modi introduced in January of this year.

The country’s Sankalp Saptah programme, which is being implemented in 500 aspirational blocks throughout 329 districts, seeks to increase block-level government while also improving civilian quality of life.

Chintan Shivirs were held nationwide at the village and block levels to help with the effective execution of the ABP and to create strong block development strategies. The result of these careful considerations, which will be seen in each of the 500 aspirational blocks, is Sankalp Saptaah.

On October 9, the final day of the seven-day event, a celebration of the week’s worth of effort will take place under the banner of Sankalp Saptaah – Samavesh Samaroh.

Speaking at the inaugural function, the prime minister claimed that more than 25 crore people’s lives in 112 districts throughout the nation had been improved by the aspirational districts plan. He asserted that the quality of living had changed. Now, the aspirational blocks programme will be built on the success of the aspirational districts programme, he said.

According to the statement, about 3,000 panchayat and block level functionaries and representatives of the people are expected to attend the inaugural event at Bharat Mandapam, in addition to about two lakh farmers, block and panchayat level functionaries, and people from other walks of life who will participate virtually.

Starting on October 3 and running through October 9, each day of Sankalp Saptaah is devoted to a distinct development subject on which all aspirational blocks will focus. Sampoorna Swasthya, Suposhit Pariwaar, Swachhta, Krishi, Shiksha, and Samridhi Diwas are some of the themes for the first six days, according to the statement.

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