The Chandrayaan-3 mission brought out the best of the engineering skills of scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and now their charitable deeds are making them new icons of philanthropy. Still in debt for his home loan, the hands-on leader for the success of the lander Vikram has donated more than two years of his take-home salary to his alma mater.
Dr P Veeramuthuvel, 46, the son of a railway technician, is the project director of Chandrayaan-3 and he successfully steered the historic soft-landing on the Moon’s surface.
For that remarkable feat, the Tamil Nadu government on Gandhi Jayanti awarded him and eight of his colleagues from the state Rs 25 lakh each as a gift. He has now decided to donate the entire amount to the alumni associations of the institutions he studied in.
Another scientist, Dr M Sankaran, the Director of the UR Rao Satellite Centre in Bengaluru, has also decided to donate the Rs 25 lakh award money to the alumni associations of Thanthai Periyar Government Arts and Science College, Thiruchirapalli and the Raja Serforji Government Arts and Science College, Thanjavur.
Dr Veeramuthuvel says Chandrayaan’s success was “more about we and less about me”, so the award had to be shared and the best option was to give to the institutions that shaped him.
“My conscience was not permitting me to take this large amount of award money, hence donation was the best option,” Dr Veeramuthuvel said.
This was the first award money he has ever received, the rocket scientist said.
Dr Veeramuthuvel’s take-home salary is about Rs 1 lakh per month and he has donated more than two years of his would-be earnings to his alma maters.
“I come from a poor family, having studied in a government railway school in Villupuram and yet money does not mean much to me. ISRO gives us a rich environment to contribute towards national development and that is most satisfying,” Dr Veeramuthuvel said.
To build his home, Dr Veeramuthuvel had taken a loan of Rs 72 lakh from State Bank of India, and he is still paying off that loan. Yet, he said the Rs 25 lakh windfall is not his to keep.
Dr Veeramuthuvel’s wife Kavita Balasubramani is a homemaker and their daughter studies in a gurukulam in Coimbatore.
Dr Veeramuthuvel said he worked at least 80 every week and it went on continuously for four long years – 2019 to 2023. His comment comes days after Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy suggested young people should put in 70 works of work a week, which sparked a debate.
“A Herculean task of a successful soft-landing on the Moon had to be achieved and all through these four years, I didn’t take a single vacation or holiday,” Dr Veeramuthuvel said.
Sandhya Venugopal Sharma, the additional secretary for the Department of Space, in a letter to the Tamil Nadu government said Dr Veeramuthuvel wants to equally share the Rs 25 lakh award to the alumni associations of Elumalai Polytechnic college, Villupuram; Sri Sairam Engineering College, West Tambaram, Chennai; National Institute of Technology (NIT), Tiruchirapalli, and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, Chennai.
Neither the central government nor ISRO has announced any awards for the spectacular lunar achievement. Demands had been made that the Chandrayaan-3 core team of about 150 people be given 10 increments and all of ISRO be given a specially minted gold coin, but this is yet to happen.
The government did pass a special resolution by the cabinet. The parliament also praised the space community for this gratifying moment.