S Somanath, the Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has announced the withdrawal of his Malayalam memoir titled Nilavu Kudicha Simhangal (loosely translated as 'The Lions That Drank the Moonlight').
This decision comes in response to a report published in the newspaper Malayala Manorama, which quoted excerpts from the book indicating that K Sivan, the former ISRO chairman and Somanath's immediate predecessor, may have obstructed crucial promotions that Somanath believed were rightfully his.
In a conversation with The Hindu, Somanath clarified, "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 center was appointed, which naturally reduced my chances at the chairmanship."
Furthermore, Somanath disclosed that his memoir had not been officially released, and though a few copies may have been released by his publisher, he has opted to withhold its publication due to the ensuing controversy.
Lipi Books, the publisher based in Kozhikode, confirmed their withdrawal of the publication.
Somanath explained that his intention in writing the book was to narrate a motivational story about the personal challenges he encountered on his path to becoming a space technologist and in overseeing the Chandrayaan missions, not to generate controversy.
The book excerpts also shed light on Somanath's discomfort with the way "Chairman [Dr. Sivan]" handled the failure of the Chandrayaan-2 mission. The failure was attributed to a software glitch, but was publicly communicated as an "inability to communicate with the lander."
The launch of Chandrayaan-2 was originally scheduled for 15 July 2019, with then Indian president Ramnath Kovind in attendance. However, it was called off an hour ahead of the launch due to a "technical snag."
The mission eventually lifted off on 22 July, but encountered issues when the Vikram lander deviated from its planned trajectory and crashed on the Moon.
Somanath noted that the software glitch responsible for the failure only became known subsequently, and there was no point in describing it as a communication failure on the day of the incident, as Chairman Sivan had done.
Nevertheless, the ISRO Chairman clarified that he was not criticising Dr Sivan and emphasised that transparency in communicating both successes and failures is essential.
He also said that he maintained regular contact with Dr Sivan, who continued to provide guidance as an adviser to ISRO for future missions.
Chandrayaan-3, which incorporated various technical improvements based on lessons learned from Chandrayaan-2's failure, was launched on 14 July 2023.
The mission achieved a successful landing of the Vikram lander on the Moon's south pole on 23 August 2023, and released a rover, called Pragyan, to explore a portion of the lunar surface.
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