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Monday, January 23, 2012

Bangalore man who saw the Moon, NASA and Star Wars closer | Prof Ramnath of MIT says India should have a national goal


R V Ramnath, Prof of Aeronautics & Astronautics, MIT. Photo: Jithendra
By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore: Motorcycle rides to Jakkur air strip from V V Puram, soon after finishing his Intermediate from National College in 1955, gave him fundamental lessons in speed and accuracy. Flying Tiger Moth over good-old Bangalore saw his dreams taking wing along with exposure to altitude and the not-so-friendly G-forces. The rest, as they is history.
Express caught up with 74-year-old Rudrapatna V Ramnath, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to know from a man, who was part of America's Apollo Mission, which brought Moon closer to mankind. “My father sold my motorcycle after he came to know that I was learning flying without his clearance,” says Prof Ramnath.
Son of late R. Venkataramaiya, the first Chief Justice of Karnataka, Prof Ramnath, studied in Kannada medium schools and took his BE in Electrical Engineering from Mysore University College of Engineeering, Bangalore, in 1959. He went to Cranfield Institute of Technology, UK in 1963 and did his MSc and a PhD in Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering from Princeton University, USA. “In UK, I graduated my flying on Tiger Moth and Auster Eaglet. It was all for fun, you see,” he said, adding: “My first boss was Dr Neelakantan, the first director of National Aerospace Laboratories and I was his technical assistant.”
Topping his inspiration-list is J Robert Oppenheimer, the brain behind the Manhattan Project responsible for detonating the first atomic bomb. “He loved Indian philosophy and he quoted from the Bhagavad Gita at the time of the first controlled nuclear explosion. He described it as Light of a Thousand Suns (Divi Surya Sahasraya). Even the great Einstein was under him. I had met Oppenheimer and he shared his love for India and Sanskrit,” Prof Ramnath, who was in India to receive an award, said.
On his role in Apollo Mission, the professor said that MIT was given the contract then for developing the guidance system. “I am glad that I was part of a team that made man walk on the Moon for the first time. I am also delighted
that India has made huge inroads in Space applications. Technology-wise the US is far ahead, but India is catching up. There's no lack of brain and intelligence here. But man-management and red-tape is a bane for this nation. India should have a national goal. I feel here everything is fragmented,” Prof Ramnath, who is settled in Lexington said.
When asked about his take on the new-age Bangalore, his thoughts hit the road in a splash. “Traffic can make your nervy. My heart still beats for Bangalore. My memories, my childhood, my yoga classes... I love Carnatic and Hindustani classical music and every time I listen to them, I travel in time and space to Bangalore,” the professor, married to Vijaya from Mysore, said.
A buddy of India's space legend Prof Satish Dhawan, the septuagenarian recalled their days together playing tennis. “We had fun while playing. He tried hard to get me into India's space programmes, but I was chasing more challenges,” says the man who was roped in for Ronald Regan's Star War project. In addition to teaching at MIT, he is also consultant to NASA and advisor to US Department of Defence.
If all these are rocket science stories, then here's a sportive bit. Prof Ramnath is the man who developed a systematic procedure to evaluate the performance of advanced sports equipment, including tennis/badminton racquets and golf clubs. He is also credited with aiding the technology that helps line-calls in tennis.
(This article appeared on Jan 22 Edition of Express. Copyright@The New Indian Express)

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