"Hard work never brings fatigue. It brings satisfaction." - Indian PM Narendra Modi
It is very uncommon in India to be awake at night for a scientific or space experiment, but K.Sivan, the ninth chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, made it possible. His Vision of taking India to new heights in space with the second unmanned mission to the moon ‘Chandrayaan 2’ united people to witness the development of our country. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not stop himself from going to ISRO Centre on the night of September 6, 2019, to watch the planned touchdown of the Vikram lander, one of the essential parts of the 'Chandrayaan 2’ mission. Although the Vikram lander failed, it showed India as an emerging power in space and aeronautics industry under the leadership of K. Sivan, whose life is itself like a takeoff from land to the heights of the moon.
A Self-made Childhood
"Life is not fair. Get used to it." – Bill Gates
Life will always be imperfect, but the way we handle our situation is what makes it perfect in some ways. The most important lessons of life starts at childhood, but they always differ in their context. For K. Sivan, who was born in a family with a farming background in Tarakkanvilai village of Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, childhood started with several challenges due to the weak financial condition of his family. Being a son of a farmer, he received his initial education from a Tamil medium Government school in Mela Sarakkalvilai Village, and then moved to another government school during high school, both of which were not enough to realize his actual capabilities and talent in studies. With very little available to spend on education from family’s income, he worked hard on his own without any guidance or tuitions even without an electric bulb and created his own childhood success story.
"The accomplishment of your dreams will demand big sacrifice and hard work." - Lailah Gifty Akita
As time passes by, the need for more money for his further studies kept prevailing. K.Sivan took that responsibility as well on his shoulders and started helping his father, Kailasa Vadivu, a farmer with very less income. He used to carry mangoes on his bicycle, riding for many Kilometers to sell them in the markets and pay his school fees himself even during ninth standard. Somehow all these conditions made him stronger than before, and he continued to excel in studies even within limited resources. His family made a lot of sacrifices for his studies, including his brother, who left his education to clear the path of higher studies for K. Sivan as it was not possible for his family to educate them simultaneously. K.Sivan justified their trust and sacrifices when he graduated from Hindu College in Nagercoil, the first one to achieve the feat in his family.
Engineering His Studies Towards Success
"The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice." -George Eliot
After graduation, it was time for K. Sivan to choose a stream that can take his studies and talent to the next level. To realize his dreams to serve his nation for a better future, he moved to Madras Institute of Technology for B.Tech in Aeronautical engineering. As soon as he finished his engineering in 1980, he went for a two-year master’s degree in aerospace engineering from IISC Bengaluru. He completed most of his higher studies with the help of scholarships received owing to his hard work and talent. However, his father also had to sell some farming land to fund his education and dreams.
Shaping A Growth-oriented Career
Achieving success is a journey, and K. Sivan exactly knew that he needs to put all his dedication to make his life an inspiring one. Just after his master's, he joined ISRO, one of the best space organizations in the world. Known to be an expert in flight trajectory guidance and control software, he got his first work for the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) Project. He made this project successful by helping in the proper planning, designing, integration, and analysis of the mission. This success marked the beginning of his era, and he never looked back in his professional career.
"The journey matters as much as the goal" - Kalpana Chawla
He turned out to be a star within the space organization when he wrote a software called ‘Sitara’ which can be used in the launch vehicles to control the rocket’s trajectory. Owing to his talent and proven capabilities, he was given the responsibility to correct the errors in the indigenous cryogenic engine of the GSLV rocket, one of the most crucial missions in the history of Indian space research. Not only the GSLV rocket was successfully launched because of his efforts, but also the dedication and unbelievable talent helped him to get the position of project director of all GSLV rocket projects.
Adding More Stars To His Treasure
The best thing about hard work and success is that they are bound with the awards and recognitions, which eventually help to inspire us for more significant milestones. K. Sivan was already a shining star in the organization, and it becomes more noticeable when he got Shri Hari Om Ashram Prerit Dr. Vikram Sarabhai Research Award in 1999 for his valuable contribution to space research. A Ph.D. degree from the prestigious IIT Bombay in 2006 lands him in the ISRO Merit Award in 2007, and then more awards followed, including the Dr. Biren Roy Space Science Award in 2011. After being felicitated with all the prominent awards, he was also offered the fellowship of the National Academy of Engineering, Indian Systems Society for Science and Engineering, Aeronautical Society of India, and Systems Society of India. His book on the Integrated Design for Space Transportation System in 2015, showed his expertise in many areas related to launching rockets and started his legacy that will be followed by everyone connected to space research.
Setting A Benchmark In Space Industry
"Clouds come floating into our life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky." - Rabindranath Tagore
K. Sivan kept on working with the same passion and dedication for more than thirty decades and was honored in the same way. After being conferred Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) from Sathyabama University, Chennai, in April 2014, he was appointed as the director of ISRO's Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre on 2 July 2014. With more responsibilities coming his way, he was working towards a much bigger vision and finally got the success on June 1, 2015, when he was made the Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. It was a splendid achievement, and he took it as a stepping stone in his career. During his tenure as the director, he helped the project teams working on reusable launch vehicles and played a crucial role in setting up a world record for India by launching 104 satellites with a single flight of PSLV in Feb 2017. Another benchmark was set when he was appointed as the chairman of ISRO in January 2018, along with the extra responsibilities as the Secretary of Department of Space and Chair of the Space Commission.
Leading The Chandrayaan-2
"If you want to be successful, stop worrying about what you can get, and start focusing on what you can do." - Sandeep Maheshwari
The crucial first mission for K. Sivan as the chairman was to realize the dream of taking India to the south pole of the moon into reality. The second uncrewed mission, ‘Chandrayaan 2’ was a bold step that no country has achieved until now. Its main objective was to take the findings of successful ‘Chandrayaan-1’ to the next level with an Orbiter, Lander (Vikram), and Rover (Pragyan) that were built to analyze minerals, map the moon's surface and search for water. K. Sivan and his team spent sleepless nights to make it a grand success and forced everyone in the world to see Indian pride on the moon. The orbiter and lander modules were mechanically interfaced with each other as an integrated module along with a rover placed inside the lander module. Both modules were planned to get separated in the space after which orbiter will start orbiting the moon, and the lander will try a soft landing to the south pole of the moon. ‘Chandrayaan 2’ was successfully launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota with all parts placed in Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) rocket on July 22, 2019. One of the best parts of this mission was its cost-effectiveness as it only cost USD 141 million, a small fraction of what most of the developed nations like the United States spent on their moon missions.
The story did not end at a successful launch since Chandrayaan 2 was produced for more significant work. It reached the lunar orbit on August 19, 2019, and the orbiter module starts working and analyzing the moon surface by orbiting around the moon. It was one of the significant milestones achieved under the leadership of K. Sivan. It accounted for almost 95% of the mission carried out single-handedly by ISRO after Russia pulled itself out, citing financial issues. On September 6, the whole world was waiting for the history to be made by India during the soft landing of the Vikram (Lander module), but unfortunately, it lost contact with the ISRO software when it was only 2.1 kilometers above the lunar surface. Although only 5% of the mission was lost, the whole of India was seen in tears, including the chairman K. Sivan himself. With a whole life of 14 earth days, ISRO tried its best to re-establish the contact with lander, but the crash made it impossible to revive it. Although a little disheartened with this failure, K. Sivan knew that it is now a matter of pride for India to reach on the surface of the moon. He soon hit back with the launch dates of Chandrayaan-3 as November 2020 that will also fall under his three-year term. K. Sivan was well supported by our PM Narendra Modi and citizens, lauding their efforts and dedication towards their country. Everyone in the country was standing beside him for his efforts to maintain the pride of the nation as the chairman of ISRO.
"There will be a new dawn and a brighter future soon, your journey, and the efforts are as important as the final result of the Chandrayaan-2 mission. Every difficulty and every struggle teaches us something new and motivates us for some new inventions, new technologies, and this determines our future success. If someone is the greatest teacher of knowledge, then it is science. Science is not a failure, only experiments, and efforts." - Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the ISRO Headquarters, Bengaluru on September 07, 2019
"Don’t read success stories, you will get only message. Read failure stories, you will get some ideas to get success." – Dr. Abdul Kalam
The above one sentence by one of the best aerospace scientists and the proud recipient of Bharat Ratna, Dr. Abdul Kalam, has summed up the entire journey of K. Sivan. His real strength lies in formulating a new vision every day irrespective of the outcome. He showed the world that winning and losing are a part of your journey, which has helped him to announce his identity of being a farmer’s son to be the chief of prestigious organization ISRO. He is a true hero who has set himself as an example for every person trying to find his way amid hardships of life and be someone who can make this world a better place to live.