Reddit, which calls itself the front page of the internet, surfaces strange material for the most part. But one of its more popular and well-known features is Ask Me Anything, an unmoderated and mostly unmediated interaction with someone who is verified to have had a certain set of experiences.

Eight months ago, Reddit India hosted an AMA with three young ISRO scientists, some of whom were only a few months out of college. The three chose to remain anonymous and answered all questions from an account called ISROredditors.

Some of their answers give a rare insight into the functioning of a government organisation.

ISRO and you
Several users had opinions on how to run ISRO better, from tourism at Sriharikota during launch times to why ISRO should improve its social media interface.
Very good question. There is no question of collecting money. Just make a pavilion and give official passes. We'll try to take the idea forward. Also pulicat lake is a tourist destination.

Earlier, online coverage, photos and webcast were bad. However, the facebook presence now has greatly improved things. Photos are way way better and updates are really good. The facebook experiment has gone really well and is helping ISRO to reach a wider audience. However, much more needs to be done. There were live videos for all missions, shown on DD national. The webcast is pathetic, as you said. I don’t know why the resolution is so bad given that DD broadcasts in HD. Also, the webcast requires a Windows media player plugin. Who uses that :(

They also had a sense of humour. When asked about why ISRO is building a new launch site further north along the coast, they replied:
Because we must have it on the east coast (to use earth's rotation in our favour) and we can't have it further down south on the east coast due the existence of a populated landmass called Sri Lanka. If anything goes wrong, it should fall into the sea, not on another country. :)

Office politics
People also wanted to know how ISRO works internally and how the young scientists were received by the older generation.
Everyone obviously does not get to work on the exciting stuff. Someone has to do the other work, but it is always the organisation first. I would say the satisfaction levels among the younger engineers are slightly lower, which leads to higher attrition. There is internal politics, just like any other place.

I have delivered a 85 hour work week 2 weeks ago, right now, the number is 60. The rule says you can't be asked for more than 40. There's your answer.

The youngest engineer at ISRO worked for a starting salary of Rs 7.2 lakh without deductions. As to the message they want to send to the government?

"Give us PRIS back."

Performance Related Incentive Schemes were introduced in the Department of Atomic Energy in 2009, but were still under review in 2013.

While their answers were refreshingly direct about office hierarchies and working hours (ISRO's scientists are notoriously overworked and underpaid), they remained circumspect about the actual details of their work, unless asked directly.

Office gossip

Where they really shone, however, was in letting slip the juicy details that humanise an organisation. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that senior scientists involved in sending space vehicles several hundred million kilometres into space also sometimes succumb to warnings of dire circumstances in the next 24 hours if they do not send a message to 13 other people.

"Senior scientists still forward early 21st century chain mails :D," one of them wrote.

Later in the conversation, they also mentioned more than once that the numerical ratio of women to men, while better than engineering colleges, was not good for their social lives. In what might have been an open call to the five female users of Reddit, they said, "Also, many young scientists are single :D"

The scientists also spoke frankly about the quality of equipment they had to deal with. While ISRO makes most of its own vehicle components, the scientists did single out some unnamed Navratna public service utilities (which include Oil India Limited, MTNL and Engineers India Limited) for shoddy services.

When asked if there was anyone at ISRO who could be compared to Carl Sagan, one person waxed eloquent about APJ Abdul Kalam and Professor Yash Pal, as well as other less well known names.

Another was more direct. "Sadly, no," he wrote. "We may have one soon though :D"

But all uniformly admired Vikram Sarabhai, ISRO's founder, as a "visionary" and "genius".

ISRO and India

The scientists attributed the lack of interference from the centre to being located in Bangalore, instead of Delhi.

"In fact, Satish Dhawan, with his great foresight made sure that the ISRO HQ is in Bangalore, away from the politics in Delhi," he wrote. "Today, ISRO/DoS is the only central government arm that has it's HQ and power centre away from the national capital."

They also fielded questions about the use of ISRO, possibly the most pertinent question asked of the space organisation. While pointing the certainly essential services ISRO provides in terms of mapping and telecommunications, their best justification for the Mars mission was that at least it was 19 times less expensive than NASA's.
Hi, The other things which need the said attention and funds are more of an operations problem than of finance. Our Mars mission cost a fifth of what a planned 'Statue of Unity' is going to cost. NASA's projected budget for 2013 is about $ 18 Billion, which will approximately be 0.5% of the total US budget. ISRO's allotted budget for fiscal year 2013-14 is $ 950 Million, almost 19 times less, and is about 0.33% of the total Indian budget. So, no, ISRO is not taking a bite out of the poor and hungry Indian's pie. In fact, through its remote sensing and communication programs (IRS and INSAT), we are only helping build an essential infrastructure for the country. Then, there is disaster management: we saved millions (of lives and dollars, both) by being well prepared for the cyclone Phailin. That is where maintaining cutting edge technological capability through R & D pays! Remote sensing helps our farmers and fishermen: the beloved poor-hungry-Indians and enables them to buy food. Giving them food, is not the answer. And our communication satellites are well, apart from connecting the remotest parts of a diverse and large country (telemedicine and edusat), are enabling me to answer this question in real time. Also, this: