He makes it a point to remove his shoes and bow reverentially before the statue of the Goddess Saraswati as he walks into the university hall, where hundreds of students wait patiently for him. Dr Kumar Krishen, a senior scientist from the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is here to deliver a lecture on his career in space exploration.
One finds in him a unique blend of qualities which make him an ardent proponent of Indian culture in the US and a scientist with a proven track record at the same time.
On a private trip to India last week, he shared his vast knowledge with the engineering students at Delhi Technological University (DTU) through a series of lectures. “I told them about new technology and research required in future for space exploration. In fact, the technology we use every day, here on earth, is influenced greatly by the space innovations. To give an example, the water purification system and method of reprocessing water is used in the space because water is scarce there. The same technology is used on earth too,” he explains.
Krishen was drawn to science and technology while in school. He then graduated with mathematics and physics from J & K University, but soon after he “saw an advertisement of Calcutta University, which had announced its admissions, and within a few days I had left for the city for a BTech in radio physics and technology,” he recalls.
Krishen completed his MTech from the University of Calcutta and got admission to the PhD programme there too, but he left his studied unfinished as his guide went abroad. He flew to USA afterwards where he studied for MS and later PhD at the Kansas State University.
The research career was followed by a seven-year-stint at Lockheed as a staff scientist, after which he finally landed at NASA in 1976. “I was surprised to have received a call from NASA at a time when a lot of employees were being laid off there. It took me a few months to join because my previous employer didn’t want to part with me,” he says.
Career in research
Krishen’s career is an amalgam of path-breaking research and university teaching. Using radio frequency energy, he once worked on a device which removed tumours from the human body. His brush with unconventional projects took place during his university days when he discovered the material composition of the Moon (to find out what the surface of Moon is made of) using electromagnetic signals. This thesis got him his MS degree in electrical engineering from Kansas State University.
Having authored more than 160 papers/ reports, he has also been honoured with many awards such as Honarary Texan by Texas governor Rick Perry in 2001 and Bharat Samman by NRI Institute in 2006.
About joining NASA, he says he had to set a firm goal and study for it. You can have a dream but “must first identify how much knowledge you have to gather to make your aim a reality. Then you can gradually follow your dream with proper planning. Par vidya pehle hai (But education comes first). Later you can join any place you want be it NASA or ISRO or research agencies in China or Japan. In my case, I never applied for NASA. They invited me to join,” he says.
After making it big in the field of science and technology, Krishen is poised to do his bit for the society. He has founded a philanthropic organisation (known as the Krishen Foundation for Arts and Science), which has taken some initiatives such as funding the education of disadvantaged kids or showcasing Indian culture in Amer- ica. “I have a few teacher friends in Delhi and Kashmir and I keep asking them about the support I can extend to the school kids,” he says.
Through these small steps, he encourages young kids to study science, which is a must to improve the quality of life of humankind. “Science strives to make our lives better. Students must study it. It’s very important for our growth and development,” he advises.