UR Rao’s former ISRO colleagues recall their days working with the man who devoted his life to India’s space programme.

His only hobby was science Scientists remember UR Rao who pioneered Indias space programmeScreenshot; astrotalkuk/YouTube
news ISRO Tuesday, July 25, 2017 - 11:26

The first time R Aravamudan, ex-Director of the ISRO Satellite Centre, met former ISRO chairperson Udupi Ramachandra Rao, was in the 1960s.

As UR Rao passed away on Monday in Bengaluru at the age of 85, Aravamudan remembers him as a bright scientist who dedicated his life to developing India's space programme.

"He was extremely hardworking. I don't know if he had any major hobbies. In fact, science was his only hobby. He inspired confidence in his colleagues through his work," said Aravamudan.

Aravamudam was one of the first engineers handpicked by Dr Vikram Sarabhai to work on India's space programme in 1962.

"Back then, we were just a handful of people at ISRO. We had been given the task of setting up a rocket launching station at Thiruvananthapuram. That's where I first met Mr Rao. Back then he used to conduct scientific experiments using sounding rockets," he reminisces.

Under Rao's guidance, over 18 satellites, including India's first one called "Aryabhata' (1975), were designed and launched.

Aravamudan's association with Rao spanned over a period of half a century.

Even after he retired, Rao continued to be a part of ISRO, advising on projects and technological advancements.

So occupied was he with work that, according to Aravamudan, Rao regularly went to his office until a month before he died.

The last time he met Rao was in April during the launch of the former's book ISRO: A Personal History.

"He attended the function. He was physically not well, but he was alert. He talked about the old days," he said.

Aerospace scientist and former director of National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) Roddam Narasimha too knew Rao from ISRO's formative years, when the premier space agency used to function in Peenya.

Recollecting one particularly memorable experience, Roddam narrated how the duo met then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the early 1980s.

"Following the failure of the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV), Mr Rao asked me to head a review team and look into the problem. Since he was chief of programme and I was head of the review committee, we were asked to meet the PM. We were told that we'd be given 20 minutes to explain, but the meeting lasted for over two hours. It was a memorable occasion. Rajiv Gandhi was very keen and tech savvy. He wanted to understand what exactly had happened," he said.

While there's no doubt that Rao was an exceptional scientist, he was also an inspirational leader.

"His views were respected. He spoke his mind. He knew how to figure out your weakness and how to work on it," he added.

Also read: From audacious dream to successful space project, this book details ISRO’s fairy-tale journey