Chandrayaan-2: How to manage Vikram Lander’s failure?

Chandrayaan 2’s Vikram Lander failed to to bring down the speed to the required level for a smooth soft-landing, and therefore it’s important to remember former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s words on how to face this failure.

While he was speaking about an incident that happened in 1979 during SLV-3 satellite launch that was a failure, Abdul Kalam was then the project director of India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) and Professor Satish Dhawan was the chairman of ISRO.

“The year was 1979. I was the project director. My mission was to put the satellite in the orbit. Thousands of people worked nearly 10 years. I have reached Sriharikota and it is in the launch pad. The countdown was going on…T minus 4 minutes, T minus 3 minutes, T minus 2 minutes, T minus 1 minute, T minus 40 seconds. And the computer put it on hold… don’t launch it. I am the mission director, I have to take a decision… Experts advised me to go ahead with the launch as they were confident about their calculations … [So] I bypassed the computer and launched the system. There are four stages before the satellite is launched. The first stage went off well, and in the second stage, it got mad. It went into a spin. Instead of putting the satellite in orbit, it put it into the Bay of Bengal.”

“First time I faced failure… And how to manage failure? Success I can manage, but how to manage failure?”

Kalam then said the then ISRO chief Satish Dhawan held a press conference along with him despite the fear of facing criticisms. “Dear friends, we have failed today. I want to support my technologists, my scientists, my staff, so that next year they succeed,” Kalam quoted Dhawan.

“He took the whole blame on himself despite criticisms. He took all the blame and assured them that next year we would succeed because his team was a very good one,” Kalam recounted.

Next year, on July 18, 1980, the same team led by Kalam successfully launched Rohini RS-1 into the orbit. Then, Kalam says Dhawan asked him to conduct the press conference that day.

“I learned a very important lesson that day. When failure occurred, the leader of the organisation owned that failure. When success came, he gave it to his team. The best management lesson I have learned did not come to me from reading a book; it came from that experience,” Kalam said.