Pradeep's Space Newsletter #28

How much information is too much information?

ISRO replied to several RTI queries by @frustratedpluto with a standard template: “The information sought is exempted from disclosure under Section-8(1)(a) of RTI Act as it would prejudicially affect the scientific, technical and strategic interest of the state/country.”

ISRO is a civilian space agency. It is funded by tax payer money. It is responsible to not only deliver technical results, it is also responsible to develop scientific temper and scientific curiosity of it’s citizens.

One of the simplest ways of doing this is to update the people about the progress of it’s various projects. Space agencies like NASA and ESA have funds allocated for it’s scientists working on these projects to also engage with members of the public in an outreach budget. ISRO only has a very poor Public Relations department.

During the ISRO Spy Case days in the early 1990s, it was often said that ISRO was a civilian space agency and that it did not have any secrets. A cursory search of ISRO publications from an era before 2003 will give you all the technical details of most early ISRO projects of the kind asked for in the RTI reply.

An underdog’s success story in an environment of denial of technology made ISRO the darling of the people. Hence, early failures with the GSLV drew sharp criticism from the public. Expectations grew. ISRO could not keep up with them. It went into a cocoon.

ISRO has always had leaders who accepted responsibility for failures. This has inspired Project Directors and others to work twice as hard to return to the launch pad with better results.

ISRO returned to the launch pad with a successful string of GSLV launches.

I believe that most of ISRO’s present predicament arises from setting unrealistic expectations.

When ISRO does not share information on it’s website but shares it at various events, all of which are not on public record, space enthusiasts like @frustratedpluto scour the internet for pictures, videos, presentations, papers and talks to get this information and share it with other space enthusiasts.

When such public information is not provided even on such fora, RTI remains the only tool to obtain this information from ISRO.

@frustratedpluto faced a lot of flak for this post which is documented on Twitter replies and Quote tweets. The effort from ISRO seems to have been to hide the slow progress and poor performance of ISRO under the garb of national security. The effort of some tweeps seems to have been to silence through intimidation.

But, underlining it all is the continued failure of ISRO to communicate it’s progress. This flows over into poor reporting by the media that does not puts things into perspective.