He drives a three-wheeler with e=mc2 written on its back. For, K.A. Sreekumaran’s only daughter, Ahalya, a Class 12 student, is an Einstein fan and dreams of becoming a rocket scientist.
And Ahalya’s rocket dream has been triggered by India's Moon mission vehicle, Chandrayaan. It’s only a rocket, but it has opened up a new space for the Indian youth, science, especially space science.
Once, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) authorities had to make many rounds to technical institutions all over the country to get scientists for its research projects, but things have changed.
The attrition rate among trained engineers and scientists at Bangalore-based ISRO has dropped - to 5 per cent from 20 per cent some years ago, when many young employees at the government-run space agency would get lured by fancy salaries at information technology companies such as Infosys Technologies and Wipro.
The growing interest in space science is also reflected in the decision of the newly set-up Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IISST) to conduct its entrance examination separately.
About 86,000 candidates have applied for 150-odd seats at the institute, for which a test will be held in April.
Earlier, the institute picked students from those who appeared for the Indian Institute of Technology entrance examinations.
Ahalya is among the applicants.
“When I was a kid, I always used to dream about stars. As I grew up, I was more focused, and wanted to become an aeronaut. No doubt, Chandrayaan played a role in my growing up,” said Keertana Puthran, a second-year student at the IIST.
On August 15, 2003, when the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said from the ramparts of the Red Fort: Ab chand ko dekho (Now, target the Moon), sceptics jeered that it was only the poet-PM’s dream.
The Chandrayaan mission suffered its share of setbacks. The mission was terminated a year ahead of schedule, when ISRO lost contact with it.
But the data that later emerged from the 11 scientific instruments aboard Chandrayaan-1 put India on the world’s space exploration map.
Two of these instruments, in particular, changed the world’s understanding of the Moon. In September, scientists from the US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that its Moon Mineralogy Mapper had discovered water molecules on the Moon’s surface.
“If it weren’t for [Chandrayaan-1], we wouldn’t have been able to make this discovery,” said Carle Pieters, who was the principal investigator for the Mapper instrument.
Just this month, a separate team of NASA scientists announced that Mini-SAR, another instrument aboard Chandrayaan-1, had found more than 40 craters full of water ice on the moon.
That’s enough ice for scientists to plan a space station on the Moon.
“The icing on the cake is that it triggered the imagination of the youth. Space is no more a mysterious object for them. Youngsters now flood our institutions,” said G. Madhavan Nair, former chairman of ISRO and the main architect of the Chandrayaan mission.
“Now, we are planning to carry two human beings to the Moon by 2015,” Nair said. “It will further fuel people’s imagination and India’s scientific growth.”
(With inputs from Anika Gupta in New Delhi)