Former president A P J Abdul Kalam wanted to witness Mangalyaan mission’s launch on September 24, 2014.
However he had to leave Bengaluru with “childlike reluctance” the day before as he had a university convocation to address, says the then ISRO chief K Radhakrishnan in his memoir.
“On 23 September, a day before the D-day, we had a very pleasant surprise - Kalam Sir decided to take a detour from his Chennai-Delhi trip and join us at Bengaluru. He spent a couple of hours at ISTRAC, greeted everyone present there and listened to a briefing by mission director Kesava Raju at MOX,” says Radhakrishnan in “My Odyssey: Memoirs of the Man behind the Mangalyaan Mission”.
“Kalam Sir, our first mission director of SLV-3 in 1979-80, appeared satisfied with our preparations. I could guess that he was in two minds, whether to stay back with us for the next day or honour his commitment for a convocation address at a university in north India.
“With childlike reluctance, he left for the airport to catch the last flight to Delhi but reminded me to keep him posted on the progress because he wanted to mention it during the convocation address the next afternoon,” he recalls.
India scripted space history that day by successfully placing its low-cost Mars spacecraft Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in orbit around the red planet in its very first attempt.
Like many of his fellow space professionals, Radhakrishnan, who was ISRO chief till December 2014, too was enamoured by the idea of an interplanetary probe to Mars while he was the director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.
“The possibility of an Indian Mars probe had been discussed in our weekend sessions with V Adimurthy, the then associate director of VSSC, and his brilliant engineers led by R V Ramanan,” he says.
“After taking over as the chief of ISRO in November 2009, I wished to pursue this with passion and professionalism. Adimurthy superannuated in May 2010, and I did not lose a minute in inviting him to the headquarters as a Satish Dhawan professor to contribute as our adviser on the interplanetary mission.
“Within three weeks of his taking over, we had a deliberation involving all centre directors of ISRO and the director of the Physical Research Laboratory at Antariksh Bhavan. We discussed the possibilities and constraints of a spacecraft mission to Mars that could just fly by the planet for a short while or be manoeuvred to orbit Mars several times (it was too premature then to even think of a lander mission to Mars),” he writes.