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Kailasavadivoo Sivan: Life story of India’s rocket man

Kailasavadivoo Sivan also known as ‘Rocket Man’ of India is the current ISRO chief who comes from a farmer’s family in Tamil Nadu. Today he is a household name in India. Let’s read the amazing story of this great scientist.

Early Life

Kailasavadivoo Sivan was born on 14th April 1957 in Mela Sarakkalvilai, a small village in Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu, India. His parents, Kailasa Vavidu and Chellam were a farmer. He had two sisters and a brother. He was educated in a Tamil medium government school.


Sivan started his early education in his native village, Tarakkanvilai, in a local government school. Later he went to study in a neighbouring village, Vallankuranvilai. Space science and rocketry was never in the minds of a young Sivan. In 1974, the young 17-year-old Sivan has just passed out of his pre-university education. Like majority young 12th passed students, he wanted to pursue Engineering. But being a farmer’s son, the financial constraint stops him from pursuing his dream. Financial burden becomes the main obstacle for his family. His brother and two sisters were unable to complete higher education due to poverty. In the end, he went on to pursue bachelor’s in mathematics in ST Hindu college in Nagercoil. His father admitted him in ST Hindu college so that Sivan could help him in the field. Not being able to study engineering may have hit him, but it did not break him. He just become stronger. He worked harder and set a record by scoring 100% in four subjects in his graduation. And after his hard work payoffs. His records got him noticed and a chance of a scholarship at the prestigious Madras Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT boasts some brilliant alumni including a person whom he admired a lot, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. APJ Abdul Kalam was a batch 25 years senior than Sivan’s.

Getting 100% marks not only got him a scholarship to MIT, but it also changes his father’s mind. It was after this when his father realized the potential of Sivan. But once again, Financial constraints comes in the way again of Sivan’s pursuit of academics. His father had an acre of land where they cultivated paddy and some seasonal crops. And they had to sell for Sivan to get into MIT. “My father had to sell about a quarter of an acre to send me to MIT” said Sivan. And it was when he entered MIT that he wore pants for the first time. Till college he wore only dhoti. In his childhood days, seven never wore shoe or sandals due to poverty. He never went to any coaching class in his career. He is a man of hard work. His uncle dubbed him as self-made. He is the first-generation graduate in his family. “He achieved greater heights through his sheer hard work” said one of his former classmates. Sivan graduate from Madras Institute of Technology in aeronautical engineering in 1980 at the age of 23. It was during his time at MIT that he began to love rocket science.

Master and PhD

Sivan complete his master from IISc in Aerospace engineering in 1982. He went on to complete PhD from IIT, Bombay in Aerospace engineering in 2006.

Career at ISRO


Sivan joined ISRO in 1982 to participate on the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) project. PSLV is the workhorse of ISRO. He was involved in mission planning, mission design, mission integration and analysis. The mission design process and strategies that they developed for PSLV become the foundation for other ISRO launch vehicles like GSLV, GSLV-MK3 and RLV-TD. He also developed the day of launch wind biasing strategy which has made possible to launch rockets on any day of the year at any weather and wind conditions.


Sivan joined GSLV in 2011. He was part of the historical achievement of most successful GSLV flight with indigenous cryonic stage.

He was appointed as the director of ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion System center on 2 July 2014. He became the director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in 2015. He was appointed as the chief of ISRO in January 2018. It was under his leadership, ISRO launched Chandrayaan-2, India second mission to the moon on July 22,2019


Under his leadership as ISRO chief, ISRO launched Chandrayaan-2 on July 22, India’s second mission to the moon. The lander Vikram named after the ISRO founder, Vikram Sarabhai began it descend on the morning of September 1. Moments before the lander was expected to touchdown on the surfaces, they lost contact. The lander performed 98% as expected. Although the mission may have failed, ISRO is planning another mission in 2020.


“Chandrayaan 3 will be ready in about a year’s time. It will be the first time a humanoid will be sent in the unmanned mission,” he said. He also said that four astronauts have been selected and are undergoing training in Russia for future missions. He also mentioned that a new launch pad is being planned in Tamil Nadu.


Sivan has received many prestigious awards some of them includes

IEEE Simon Ramo Medal shared with BN Suresh in 2020.

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Award, 2019

He was conferred Doctor of science (Honoris causa) from Sathyabama University Chennai in April 2014.

Distinguished Alumnus Award 2013 from MIT alumni association.

Dr. Biren Roy Space Science Award in 2011.

ISRO Merit award in 2007 Shri Hari Om Ashram Prerit Dr Vikram Sarabhai Research Award in 1999


Dr. K Sivan gets a monthly salary of 2.50 lacs per annum from ISRO. The chief of ISRO rank is equivalent to IAS and IPS.


He is a fellow of National Academy of Engineering,

Aeronautical society of India.

System society of India.

Published Books

Sivan published a book titled ‘Integrated Design for space Transportation System’ in 2015.


He is married to Malathi Sivan. His wife is a homemaker, and they have two sons, Siddharth and Sushanth.

Favourite movie

His favourite movie is Aradhana, 1969. He also loves listening Tamil classical songs.

Celebrity status

Nobody knew Sivan before Chandrayaan-2. But today, he is a household name in India. Even though ISRO clarified that he has no account on social Media, there are many double-gangers in social media. There are millions of his fans.

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