Investigating launch failures is rocket science
A control engineering professor—a one-time colleague of President APJ Abdul Kalam—offered this as career advice for those intrepid students who expressed interest in a career in space technology. “Remember” he said, “success will be spectacular. Failure, even more so”. Civilians may well be protected from falling rocket parts, but it is hard to protect rocket scientists from falling adjectives dropped by a shocked media ready to condemn them for their real and imagined failings.
The Agni-III missile and the GSLV are different vehicles, meant for very different purposes, launched by different organisations, and quite possibly their launch failure are due to very different reasons. (see Jagadish and Maverick). Both DRDO and ISRO have an incentive to investigate the reasons for their respective failures and correct them before the next launch. They should be allowed to do so. At times like this, both journalists and politicians call for independent enquiries. But it is only fair to allow both these organisations to complete their internal investigations before calling for these ‘independent’ reviews.
It is much too early to offer definitive comment. Even as they seek and report facts, it is a good idea to avoid rushing to dramatic conclusions. The launch failures by themselves do not justify passing judgement on India’s missile and space programmes.