Missouri S&T alumnus part of India’s lunar landing

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On March 22, 2024

This screenshot of a livestream provided by the Indian Space Research Organization shows the Vikram lunar lander descending to the moon.

This screenshot of a livestream provided by the Indian Space Research Organization shows the Vikram lunar lander descending to the moon.

Twenty-seven years ago, when Radhakant Padhi was in the early stages of his career and working as a national defense scientist in India, he aspired to one day earn a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in the United States.  
While searching for the best program, he learned Dr. S.N. Balakrishnan, an aerospace engineering faculty member at Missouri S&T, was recruiting graduate students, which helped him land on S&T as his university of choice.  
In August 2023, Padhi, or at least the technology he developed, landed on something else — the moon.  

Dr. Radhakant Padhi earned a Ph.D. from Missouri S&T in 2001. Photo courtesy of Padhi.

Padhi played a significant role in developing the Indian Space Research Organization’s (IRSO) Vikram lunar lander that successfully landed near the moon’s south pole as part of the Chandrayaan-3 mission. 
“In 1997, I asked if it was possible for me to become a doctoral student in Rolla,” he says. “About two decades later, I was asked by ISRO to explore and develop the best guidance methods for having a safe and soft landing on the moon, which our country accomplished last year. This shows how a lot can change over time if you work hard and are determined to reach your goals.” 
Padhi finished his Ph.D. at Missouri S&T in 2001. After that, he stayed at S&T until the end of 2003 as a postdoctoral fellow and continued working with Balakrishnan. He was then hired as an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India, where he previously completed his master’s degree in aerospace engineering.  
Since then, Padhi has remained a faculty member at the institute, rising to the level of professor in 2015, while also mentoring several graduate students and receiving many national and international accolades for his contributions to the field of guidance and control engineering.  
He has worked in academia and conducted research with the support of multiple government agencies in India, as well as the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development.  
“Being a student in Rolla was a great experience to help launch my career because it made me more confident with math and control systems,” he says. “I always wanted to research and further understand control systems, and the university had several relevant courses and opportunities for me to expand my knowledge.” 
“I have always enjoyed working with controls because they are basically the brains that operate and decide everything for a system,” he says. “For example, there were several variables that we had to plan and decide for the lunar lander. Everything from the altitude to the thrust to the angle of the landing had to be considered within the control framework so we could ensure a smooth landing.” 
Padhi says he hopes to play a role in future space missions as well, and he has been approached by a U.S. private company to assist with lunar landers that are being developed for NASA. 
“It is fascinating to study how things fly,” he says. “We were not born to fly, but we know birds do fly, and hence, things can fly. With that knowledge in hand, the next step is to determine how we can make things fly even better.” 
To go along with his work in guidance and controls, Padhi says he intends to continue working on some of his other research areas, including drone technology, air traffic management software and biomedical applications for control systems. 
He also recently established a start-up company called VishvaSys Technologies that is incubated in the Indian Institute of Science.
For more information about Missouri S&T’s aerospace engineering programs, visit mae.mst.edu

About Missouri S&T

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students located in Rolla, Missouri. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System, Missouri S&T offers over 100 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top public universities for salary impact, according to the Wall Street Journal. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu.  

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