• Monday, January 05, 2015 - 05:30
Siddharth Mohan Nair | The News Minute | September 25, 2014 | 8.30 pm IST Two students of Government Higher Secondary School, Munnurcode in Palakkad district of Kerala were distributing toffees in their school on Wednesday celebrating the success of Mangalyaan mission. The successful launch of Mangalyaan did make a majority of Indians feel very proud but, why were these school students so excited?                                                                                                                In the parents and teachers executive committee board of the school in which Mohammad Anas and Mohammad Mushraf study, there is a person named Venkata Krishnan. Venkata Krishnan is a scientist  who retired from ISRO. But, this is not the only reason why the students were celebrating. Venkata Krishnan, 71, is the person who prepares a catalyst that adjusts the burning rate of the fuel in the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV) that launches satellites. The three-stage PSLV rocket that fired Mangalyaan to space had used the catalyst that this retired scientist prepared in his tiled-roof laboratory in Munnurcode, Palakkad. Hardly any buses ply in the route where his house is situated. There is no proper auto rickshaw service to this place either. Auto rickshaw drivers often refuse to come there as the road is bad. I did not find it hard to reach his place on my bike. “Where is the house where Venkata Krishnan sir lives?” I asked a group of people standing by the roadside. They gave me a puzzled look. “The ISRO scientist,” I said and an instant smile could be seen on their faces. They knew what I was asking them and guided me rightly. “Oh, the ISRO scientist? He had made something that was used in the Mangalyaan launch, you know?” a person asked me when I was walking in the village. People are aware that there is something that this man from their small village had made that was used in the Mangalyaan launch. The pride is evident on their faces. An old rusted iron gate that remained open welcomed me to his house. The huge plot had a lot of teak and coconut trees and three tile-roofed rooms. One was his house and two were his laboratories.                                                                                                                                                          A simple man in a veshti and a half-sleeved shirt welcomed me in. Yes, that was the man who everyone in Munnorcode was proud of, the retired ISRO scientist Venkata Krishnan. Graduating with a degree in Chemistry from Government Victoria College in 1964, Venkata Krishnan joined the Scientist Training Course in the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC) the same year. After the course he joined the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station, Thiruvananthapuram as a scientist. “It was in early 1970s that I first made this catalyst,” he says with a smile on his face. 5 grams of the catalyst was prepared back then. It was an amorphous mix of Copper, Chromium and Barium that reduced the burning rate of the solid propellant that was used to power the PSLV. The catalyst thus reduced the fuel consumption. The Copper Chromate Burn Rate Catalyst, or the Activated Copper Chromate (ARC) was tested and found to be of enormous use in the PSLVs. After ensuring that the catalyst was of much benefit, ISRO put out a tender in 1987 asking people to supply the catalyst to them. “None turned up,” Venkata Krishnan says. “The preparation is a 12 step cumbersome process and requires four full months without a day’s break,” he says and hinting that it was perhaps because of this that none were ready to try preparing it. There is only one more man apart from him who has tried to make this catalyst in India he says. But that is yet to be tested by ISRO. With the increased use of liquid propellant the demand for this catalyst has reduced. “But whenever cost cutting and some other advantages like weight reduction is needed in a launch this catalyst is preferred,” he says. His laboratory does not function all through the year. It is only when he receives an order from ISRO that he prepares the catalyst. He has trained twenty people who he calls when he has to prepare the catalyst.  In the PSLV that launched Mangalyaan, his catalyst was used the in the first and third stage of the mission. As I spoke to him he kept receiving calls from his well-wishers congratulating him on the successful launch of India’s first Mars mission. “It is a proud moment for every Indian. All the credit goes to the Indian taxpayers who funded this mission and, of course the scientists who made it a success,” he replied to all of them. “We have proved to the world that we, as a country, are capable of launching an interplanetary mission. This is just a beginning. Mangalyaan was more of a technology mission than a scientific mission. More than what comes out of Mangalyaan, the fact that we have learnt a lot by successfully carrying out such an interplanetary mission is what is important.” Venkata Krishnan is confident that India will do well in space technology. “India has a lot of intelligent brains,” he says.