Born In: Kanniyakumari District, Tamil Nadu, INdia
Nambi Narayanan is an Indian aerospace engineer who is known for his significant contribution to the Indian space program. While working with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), he led the team that acquired the technology from the French Viking engine and later successfully developed the Vikas rocket engine. He was then made in-charge of the cryogenics division of ISRO and was in line to become the next ISRO chairman before he was falsely implicated in an espionage case. Nambi Narayanan, who has claimed involvement of the US and its spy agency CIA in fabricating the case against him to prevent India’s space advancements, has been acquitted and awarded monetary compensation. He is still continuing his fight to bring the conspirators to justice.
Also Known As: S. Nambi Narayanan
Spouse/Ex-: Meena Nambi
Born Country: India
education: Princeton University, Thiagarajar College of Engineering, DVD Higher Secondary School
awards: Padma Bhushan (2019)
Nambi Narayanan was born on December 12, 1941 in Nagercoil, Kingdom of Travancore, which is in present-day Kanniyakumari District, Tamil Nadu. Narayanan, who grew up with two sisters, lost his father when he was in college and his mother fell ill shortly after.
After completing his schooling from DVD Higher Secondary School, Nagercoil, he enrolled in Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai, for a B.Tech degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Later on, he earned a NASA fellowship and obtain his master’s degree in chemical rocket propulsion under professor Luigi Crocco at Princeton University, but rejected a NASA offer in favor of serving India.
Nambi Narayanan started his career as a technical assistant at the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station for ISRO in 1966. Upon completing his master’s degree, he reportedly educated Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of ISRO, on liquid propulsion technology at a time when only solid propellants were in use by Indian rocketry.
He was appointed to lead one of three teams of engineers that helped acquire the Viking engine technology from France after French aerospace company Societe Europeenne de Propulsion agreed to the transfer in 1974. He and his team successfully built and tested the first engine from the acquired technology, the 600-kg thrust engine named ‘Vikas’, in 1985.
At the age of 50, he was a senior official at ISRO in charge of the cryogenics division and was tasked with exploring the cryogenic technology to advance the space program. However, after dedicated service to ISRO for 35 years alongside prominent scientists like Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, Vikram Sarabhai and Satish Dhawan, he applied for voluntary retirement on November 1, 1994.
Nambi Narayanan was arrested on November 30, 1994 by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Kerala police and Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials in connection with an espionage case. It was alleged that he and a colleague had received money from two Maldivian women for transferring drawings and documents of rocket engines.
He was kept in prison for 50 days, during which period he was tortured physically and mentally by IB officials until he collapsed and needed to be hospitalized. He claimed that he was asked to falsely implicate his boss and then Director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre A. E. Muthunayagam.
After the case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) In December, he was able to explain to its director that the drawings in question were not classified. CBI submitted a closure report in April 1996 dismissing espionage charges and further claimed that the testimonies of suspects were coerced by torture.
Unfortunately, the Kerala government revoked CBI’s permission to investigate the case and ordered the Kerala police to re-open it. In April 1998, a Supreme Court bench stopped state police from conducting further investigation.
Nambi Narayanan, who was transferred and given a desk job after his acquittal, sought compensation and action against his conspirators in 1999.
In 2012, Kerala High Court ordered a compensation amount of ₹100 thousand to be paid to him
In 2018, the Supreme Court awarded another ₹500 thousand to him and appointed a panel to probe his harrowing harassment, which resulted in a CBI investigation into involved police and IB officials in 2021
In 2021, the Kerala government paid Nambi Narayanan ₹ 13 million to settle the case filed against him.
Nambi Narayanan led the team of fifty-two engineers who worked on acquiring the Viking engine technology from France that was developed into the Vikas engine.
He has co-written two autobiographical books: Ormakalude Bhramanapadham in 2017 and Ready To Fire: How India and I Survived the ISRO Spy Case in 2018.
Nambi Narayanan was awarded ‘Padma Bhushan’, India's third-highest civilian award, in March 2019.
Nambi Narayanan has been married to Meena Nambi since September 8, 1967. They have two children: son Sankara Kumar Narayanan, who is a businessman, and daughter Geetha Arunan, who is a Montessori school teacher in Bangalore and is married to ISRO scientist Subbiah Arunan.
Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, a biographical movie on Nambi Narayanan’s life starring R. Madhavan, who also wrote and directed the film, was released in July 2022.
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