In the grand symphony of space exploration, the name Dr. Sreedhara Panicker Somanath formally Dr. S. Somanath resonates as a maestro leading India’s orchestra of innovation. Elevated to the prestigious position of the tenth Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on January 14, 2022, Somanath’s journey embodies a relentless pursuit of knowledge, a visionary outlook, and an unshakeable commitment to propel India’s cosmic aspirations to unprecedented heights.
Early Life & Education
In the picturesque village of Thuravoor, Kerala, Sreedhara Panicker Somanath was born in July 1963 to a Malayali family. His parents, his father being a Hindi teacher named Sreedhara Panicker and his mother Thankamma, provided the nurturing foundation for his journey.
Growing up under the starry skies of Kerala, Somanath’s fascination with aerospace ignited. His exceptional education paved the way for a remarkable career in Indian aerospace engineering. He became a driving force behind India’s space missions, all the while staying connected to his roots. Somanath’s story beautifully blends tradition and innovation, mirroring India’s own journey into the cosmos.
Dr. S. Somanath’s journey continued to unfold, leading him from Thuravoor to the town of Alappuzha (Alleppey) in Kerala. The flame of his scientific passion ignited during his days in a Malayalam-medium school, burning brighter as he ventured deeper into the realm of knowledge.
Though his father’s profession was in Hindi, Somanath’s ardor for science was wholeheartedly embraced. With unwavering support from his father, he found himself immersed in science literature, both in Malayalam and English, nurturing the burgeoning scientist within him. This nurturing environment fostered his determination to explore the cosmos.
When it came time to choose his path, Somanath’s decision to pursue a B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering stood as a testament to his resolute spirit. It wasn’t the easiest choice, but his unwavering commitment to his passion propelled him forward. During his years in the world of mechanical engineering, the spark of curiosity he had nurtured since his Thuravoor days ignited a blazing fire for space science and research.
Educational institutions became the stages for his journey. St. Augustine’s High School in Aroor and Maharaja’s College in Ernakulam each added a chapter to his story. With a pre-university degree from the latter, he set his sights higher, pursuing a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore. His focus on dynamics and control revealed his hunger to delve into the heart of aerospace technology.
Not content with only one field, Somanath’s academic voyage led him to Thangal Kunju Musaliar College of Engineering, part of Kerala University, where he pursued a graduate degree in mechanical engineering. This multidisciplinary approach enriched his understanding and sharpened his skills, equipping him for the challenges that lay ahead.
Dr. S. Somanath’s career is a remarkable journey through India’s aerospace landscape. After earning degrees in aeronautical and mechanical engineering, he joined ISRO, where he excelled in pivotal roles for missions like the Mars Orbiter Mission.
His leadership led him to head the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre and later the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. Ultimately, he became the Director of ISRO, guiding the nation’s space pursuits to new heights. His story is one of dedication, technical brilliance, and visionary leadership that shaped India’s space legacy.
Timeline of S. Somanath’s stellar career:
- 1985: Joined Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and was associated with the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) project.
- 2010: Became the Associate Director (Projects) of the VSSC and also took on the role of Project Director of the GSLV MK-III launch vehicle.
- 2014: Appointed Deputy Director of Propulsion and Space Ordinance Entity.
- 2015: Became the Director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) at Valiamala.
- 2018: Assumed the position of Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.
- 2022: On January 12, became the Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Secretary of the Department of Space, and Chairman of the Space Commission.
Beyond the realm of equations and experiments, S Somanath, the visionary ISRO Chairman, navigates a path where science converges with spirituality. This unique harmony of rationality and transcendence reflects a deeper aspect of his persona.
Dr. S. Somanath’s spiritually significant journey to the Chengalamma temple. This visit, rich with cultural and spiritual significance, comes just ahead of the highly anticipated launch of the Aditya L1 Solar Mission.
Offering prayers at the sacred temple, Chief S Somanath sought blessings for the mission’s success, underscoring the deep-rooted connection between science and spirituality in India’s ambitious space endeavors. His visit to the temple exemplifies ISRO’s commitment to ensuring that every aspect of the Aditya L1 mission is imbued with precision, determination, and a touch of divine grace.
Somanath’s journey isn’t solely defined by his contributions to space exploration. Beneath his engineering brilliance lies a profound connection with spirituality, which he weaves into the very fabric of his life. Just as he navigates complex scientific challenges, he treads the intricate labyrinth of his spiritual inclinations.
Rooted in the rich soil of Kerala’s culture and values, Somanath’s family played an integral role in nurturing his passion for science. His father, a Hindi teacher, wholeheartedly supported his son’s scientific inclinations, providing him with a steady diet of science literature in both English and Malayalam.
In the tapestry of his own family, Somanath is a husband to Valsala, a beacon of support, and a father to two children, who have taken the torch of education and engineering forward.
She hails from Poochakkal in Alappuzha and is an office superintendent in the Thiruvananthapuram Central Excise and Customs department under the Ministry of Finance. Her children, Malika and Madhav, are engineers.
Stellar Odyssey in ISRO
Somanath’s journey at ISRO commenced in 1985, a year that marked the beginning of his tryst with space technology. His tenure has been adorned with various roles, each contributing to the grand symphony of ISRO’s achievements.
He wore the hat of a Project Manager for the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), sculpting its trajectory towards success. His stewardship extended to the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV Mk-III) project, where he donned the mantle of Project Director.
The tapestry of his contributions also included being associated with the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC). These institutions are the very crucibles of India’s space ambitions, and Somanath’s imprint is etched in their annals.
As he assumed the mantle of ISRO Chairman on January 14, 2022, Somanath’s leadership emerged as the compass guiding India’s celestial navigation. His holistic vision encompasses technology, policy, and stakeholder collaboration.
By intertwining the realms of space and industries, Somanath envisions a future marked by innovation and growth. His leadership has garnered accolades, including the prestigious Space Gold Medal from the Astronautical Society of India, recognizing his pivotal role in steering India’s space narrative.
Under Somanath’s stewardship, ISRO launched Chandrayaan-3, India’s next chapter in lunar exploration. The mission’s first phase, the successful injection of a 100 km circular polar orbit, was carried out on July 14, 2023, at 2:35 IST.
On August 23, 2023, the lander and rover are anticipated to touch down close to the lunar south pole, and finally, on 23 August 2023, Chandrayaan-3 landed on the lunar surface of the south pole. This mission stands as a testament to the strategic acumen and team leadership of Somanath and the dedicated efforts of numerous ISRO scientists and engineers.
Contributions and Achievements
ISRO Chairman, S. Somanath, is considered one of the brains behind India’s mission to the moon. He has also been credited for other missions such as for accelerating including Aditya-L1 (a mission to the sun) and Gaganyaan (a crewed mission). Sreedhara Panicker Somanath (born July 1963) is an Indian aerospace engineer. In Thuravoor, Kerala, Somanath was born into a Malayali family as the son of Hindi teacher Sreedhara Panicker and Thankamma.
Somanath’s expertise in launch vehicle structural systems, mechanisms, and integration propelled the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) to global recognition. He spearheaded the creation of the high-thrust semi-cryogenic engine, throttleable engines for the Chandrayaan-2 moon lander, and the successful launch of the GSAT-9 electric propulsion system. He received a gold medal from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore’s Masters Program in Aerospace Engineering.
On 12 January 2022, S. Somnath was selected as the next chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation. He has held positions such as Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and Director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), Valiamala.
Awards and Recognition
Shri. S. Somanath assumed charge as Secretary, of the Department of Space and Chairman, of the Space Commission on January 14, 2022. He received the ‘Space Gold Medal’ from the Astronautical Society of India and the ‘Merit Award” and ‘Performance Excellence Award’ from ISRO.
He is a Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE), a Fellow of the Aeronautical Society of India (AeSI), the Astronautical Society of India (ASI), and a Corresponding Member of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).
In conclusion, S. Somanath’s narrative is a masterpiece that chronicles India’s journey into the cosmos. From the tranquil landscapes of Kerala to the helm of ISRO, his journey reverberates with dedication, vision, and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. As his legacy continues to inspire generations, Somanath’s footsteps guide India’s cosmic odyssey, translating dreams into reality and etching India’s name among the stars.