The guest of honour at the Envies 2014, Ogilvy & Mathers (O&M)’s internal company awards, was Subbiah Arunan, Project Director for the Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan). The acclaimed ISRO scientist, credited for coming up with the idea of reaching the neighbouring planet and accomplishing the mammoth mission in one tenth of the costs of what NASA incurred for the same mission, shared his wisdom with the employees of O&M.
He started with speaking about why he particularly chose a mission to Mars. There is always a curiosity about Mars and the question whether Earth could one day end up like Mars, he said, was the prime reason for the Mangalyaan. “We also wanted to gain complete knowledge of the planet and how it could be a solution to our planet. We also wanted to reach a distant planet and communicate with the world and demonstrate our technology in a prospective and scheduled effective manner that we in India with home grown technology and home grown minds can match any other international space agencies,” he said.
When asked how he managed to accomplish the mission on such a slim budget, he began by saying that we as Indians are very conservative when it comes to resources and finances. He said that the team knew of the financial constraints they would face with the government and tried to work within that. “As you know necessity is the mother of all conventions. Here constraint was the mother of our engineering,” he said and added that they had to come up with a unique way of conducting the mission that was not there in any textbook, but involved a lot of research and hard work.
He further spoke about the risks involved with the mission that did not deter his team that rose to the challenge. “The world will not change if you don’t take risks…. You have to walk into risks as though walking into fire,” Arunan said. He cited the recent example of the supplies rocket that exploded during liftoff in the US as the risks involved with such space missions. He said that fear was inherent part of the mission, but somehow they faced the challenge head on.
Arunan spoke about women being a part of his mission and being good at management. He said that 20 per cent of his team consisted of women and were very instrumental in realising the dream to reach Mars. Added to that, all the analyses of various situations that can occur were done by the women in the team and expressed his gratitude towards them.
Closer home he spoke about his challenges at home while striking a work life balance. “There is a compromise in such jobs with regards to family life. She (his wife) over a period of time did not see me at home for days. However, she got used to it over a period of time and realised that the work I was doing was very important to the country,” he said.
When asked whether he expected to succeed in the first attempt he said, “Our conviction was so accurate that there were no debates and deliberations regarding our predictions. I was confident we would succeed”. It helped to have a young team that was able to devote more time to study various situations and brainstorm on the problems that could occur during the mission. He further said that it is very important to be right in your predictions and see that it matches your objective. “Our prediction was so accurate that even NASA is still pondering how did we do it…and appreciated and acknowledged our effort,” says Arunan. This is the reason India went to become the first country in Asia to successfully conduct a Mars mission in the first attempt, the first cost-effective Mars mission, among the 25 other firsts that the mission achieved by its success.
Arunan finally ended by saying that he was fortunate to lead a strong team of 500 that wanted to take risks and work hard to make the country proud. “It is only when you push your boundaries that you come up with innovative things,” he said.
He was in a conversation with Anant Rangaswamy, Editor, Storyboard on CNBC.