From Thuravoor school student to ISRO chief, an illustrious journey of S Somanath

By Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Centre on Wednesday appointed senior rocket scientist and director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) S Somanath as the next chief of the Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO). 

Somanath, who has been instrumental in the development of the GSLV Mk-III launcher and a team leader for the integration of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) during the early phase of his career, has been appointed Secretary of the Department of Space and Chairman of the Space Commission for a three-year term by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet.

Somanath Sreedhara Panicker, who has been heading the VSSC here of ISRO, which is the lead centre responsible for launch vehicle development, since January 22, 2018, will succeed K Sivan as the next head of one of the world’s leading space agencies. The appointment is for a combined tenure of three years from the date of joining the post, inclusive of an extension in tenure beyond the age of superannuation in public interest, or until further orders whichever is earlier.

In the 35 years of service in ISRO, he handled various responsibilities. He was the director of Liquid Propulsion Centre of ISRO, associate director of VSSC, project director of GSLV Mk-III Rocket and chief of different technology domains. With a strong background in design, development and management of launch vehicle systems, he is presently serving as the chairman of the management councils of launch vehicle programmes and Gaganyaan, ISRO’s human spaceflight programme, steering the technology development and management across the organisation.

A native of Thuravoor near Cherthala, he had his schooling at St Augustine High School, Thuravoor there and did his predegree course at Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam. A graduate in mechanical engineering from TKM College of Engineering, Kollam, and a Master in Aerospace Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, he was the mission director for the first experimental mission of LVM3-X/CARE on December 18, 2014. After taking charge as the director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) in July 2015, he led the team to realise the Indian cryogenic stages for four successful missions of GSLV and 11 successful missions of PSLV with the liquid stages realised by LPSC.  

Now, his team is working on Gaganyaan, which involves the crew escape system in the event of a launch abort. Somanath is also awarded with a slew of honours from ISRO and professional bodies in India. Presently, he serves as one of the vice-presidents of International Astronautical Federation in charge of the technical activities. 

Leading Gaganyaan Somanath Sreedhara Panicker is presently serving as the chairman of the management councils of launch vehicle programmes and Gaganyaan