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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tears & Triumphs: Tessy’s Agni-IV team drew inspiration from failure | PM's pat on X'Mas eve

Tessy Thomas (centre), Agni-IV Project Director, leads her team at the high-security Advanced Systems Laboratory in Hyderabad. Photo: Tarmak007

Tessy Thomas
By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore/Hyderabad: Behind every successful missile, there’s a woman. And, behind every successful woman, there are men, boys, girls and many more! Welcome to Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL) – one of the most sensitive wings of Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO). Nobody talks much about it and not even listed in DRDO’s official website! Thanks to the recent success of Agni-IV, the longest missile India tested successfully so far (range in excess of 3500 km), the spotlight has stuck on ASL. 
In a ‘cleared interaction’ with Express at one of ASL’s high security tech-thatched rooms, Tessy Thomas, Project Director, A-IV summoned her faithful troops. India’s first woman scientist to head a missile programme -- now popularly known as Agniputhri – began the session by introducing her team. “My core team consists of around 60 scientists with an average age of 30. The last one year was probably the toughest in my life. Missile scientists are shunned by everyone the moment something goes wrong. Tell me one thing in this world that has got 100 per cent success in the first attempt. We learn from our mistakes. We learn from our failures. We don’t give up,” said Tessy, the leader, the teacher and the philosopher. 
There are two names she swears by: Missile Man A P J Abdul Kalam and Avinash Chander, the soft-spoken Chief Controller, R&D (Missiles and Strategic Systems) of DRDO. “We look to both for inspiration. There are many others who reposed faith in us. Sharmaji, why don’t you speak,” she said looking at S.K. Sharma, Electrical Integration Group of Agni-IV. 
Sharma said that last year’s failure did dent the morale of the team. “The spirits go down for a while. Everyone gets hit. Everyone is questioned. Every system is checked. Even if a missile fails, as you all (media) always love to write, there are many positives we derive. There will be many new critical systems that would have executed its missions for the first time,” he said. Before the recent successful launch of A-IV, Team ASL scanned the project threadbare and is said to have re-visited the ways they worked, getting down to the basics. When asked how it feels to take the orders from a woman, Sharma said: “Madam is very tough!” 
It was evident that Tessy’s team devised many means to stay focused. “Mistakes are pardonable. Openness in accepting them is a great art. The fear factor is removed and we look into the failure analysis carefully. The minute observations of the team are recorded and we narrow down the failure chances mentally to 0.1 per cent,” says C H V Ram Mohan, Deputy Project Director and Vehicle Director, A-IV. 
Brain-storming night-out sessions, tech augmentation coupled with arguments, emotions and sometimes touchdown of tears – all have played key roles -- away from the launch pad. “We draw inspiration from our failure,” says Reshma, a young Scientist (C) with A-IV programme. 
Tears & triumphs! 
|To be continued | Copyright@The New Indian Express |
(CRACKING INDIA'S MISSILE CODE is an exclusive series currently on in The New Indian Express. In the days ahead, you will get to read a mix of news-breaks and tech-upgrades on current and futuristic missile programs of India, in addition to some human-interest pieces. Email your thoughts on this long-range series to anantha.ak@gmail.com and point out factual errors, if any, that might have crept in despite my best efforts.)
PART-XI

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