City boy who helped land a spacecraft on a comet

  • Puja Pednekar, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Dec 09, 2014 01:32 IST

A Gorai school will celebrate one of its own, Dr Chaitanya Giri, the only Indian scientist to be associated with the Rosetta Mission, which landed robotic spacecraft Philae Lander on a comet last month.

Swami Vivekanand International School, Gorai, will celebrate 26-year-old Giri’s achievement on Friday, 11 years after he passed out of the school. While Giri, who lives in Germany, will not be able to make it, his parents will attend.
Even though he was part of the extraordinary feat, a modest Giri, in an email interview with HT, confessed he was at best a mediocre student during his school years.

The scientist even admitted to failing in certain subjects. “I did not excel in any sport or art. I only did well in the topics that captivated me, to the extent that I would fail in certain subjects,” Giri said. He has been working on the optimisation of an instrument known as COSAC Flight Spare Model of GC-MS, which is on board the Philae Lander with Dr Fred Goesmann at Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. The institute had partnered with the European Space Agency for the Rosetta Mission.

“If I analyse now, I had a maverick way of solving [scientific queries], which was not expected by textbook-adamant examiners,” he said.

“For some reasons, unknown to me even today, I remain in the memories of my school despite that mediocrity.”

Giri said the school was responsible for shaping seven formative years of his life, which instilled in him values of discipline and modesty. “I recollect being taught discipline, rising up to the challenge, facing failure and success with an equal sense of verdict and being down to earth. I am very grateful to them,” he said.

Giri developed an interest in science after his parents gifted him picture books when he was two years old. “Amongst the many wonderful books, there were some that carried pictures of spacecraft landing on alien planets, futuristic cities and distant galaxies; unlike anything in the humdrum life I was surrounded by then,” he said. “So there was a fascination to study things that were far away, untouched by humans, created by processes that none of us know and probably those processes that created all of us.”

Today, with children being much more informed, he said there is a dire need to overhaul textbooks regularly so as to be in sync with the changing times. “Students have far more access to knowledge on digital platforms than ever before,” he said.

The school has invited his parents to attend the felicitation on his behalf. “Since he will not be able to make it, we have decided to honour his parents in front of the whole school on our sports day,” said Yogesh Patel, director of the school.

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