ISRO Head Withdraws Book Dealing With Chandrayaan-2 Lapses, Says 'Wasn't Asked by Union Govt'

Excerpts from the book had suggested that K. Sivan, the former ISRO chairman, may have hindered key promotions that S. Somanath thought he was due for. 

New Delhi: Following a report in a Malayalam daily, S. Somanath, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), on Saturday, November 4, announced that he was withdrawing the publication of his Malayalam memoir, Nilavu Kudicha Simhangal (loosely translated as ‘The lions that drank the moonlight’). 

The book reported pointed out certain lapses regarding the failure of Chandrayaan-2. According to The New Indian Express, Somnath said that he was not asked by the Union government to withdraw the book.

The original report published in the Malayala Manorama quoted excerpts from the book which suggested that K. Sivan, the former ISRO chairman, may have hindered key promotions that Somanath thought he was due for. 

In an interview to The Hindu, Somanath said: “There has been some misinterpretation. At no point have I said that Dr. Sivan tried to prevent me from becoming the Chairman. All I said was that being made a member of the Space Commission is generally seen as a stepping stone to [ISRO’s chairmanship]. However, a director from another [ISRO centre] was placed, so naturally that trimmed my chances [at chairmanship].”

The book which is yet to be officially released now will be withdrawn, Somanath said. “The book isn’t officially released. My publisher may have released a few copies… but after all this controversy, I have decided to withhold publication,” he is quoted as saying.

In the interview to The Times of India, he said, “I will make a decision later about whether or not to release.” A spokesperson for Lipi Books, the Kozhikode-based publisher, confirmed to The Hindu that it was withdrawing the publication.

Somanath’s book, which he said was with the purpose telling a “motivational story” on the personal challenges he faced in his journey of becoming a space technologist and in executing the Chandrayaan missions “was not to create controversy.”

The book, the TOI report says, is merely 160 pages. 

According to the excerpts of the book, which The Hindu report says was viewed by the publication, what is palpable was “Somanath’s discomfort with the “Chairman [Dr. Sivan’s]” decision not to be explicit about the reasons for the failure of the Chandrayaan-2 mission.

The issue was a software glitch but was publicly communicated as an “inability to communicate with the lander”.

Chandrayaan-2 mission was originally scheduled for July 15, 2019, with then President Ramnath Kovind in attendance. The launch was called off an hour ahead, due to a “technical snag”. Chandrayaan-2 eventually lifted off on July 22 but the Vikram lander, which was to smoothly descend onto the moon and then release the Pragyaan rover, deviated from its planned trajectory and crashed on the moon.

Even with the book release held back for now, Somanath told TOI that he plans to write a full-length autobiography after retirement.