|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
He is mentioned in the novelization of 2001: A Space Odyssey as a scientist who instructed the computer HAL 9000 in its basic functions (in the movie, it was a "Mr. Langley"). He is a main character in 2010: Odyssey Two as a member of the joint Russian-American expedition to Jupiter on board the Soviet spacecraft Alexei Leonov. He is also briefly mentioned by an elderly Heywood Floyd in the novel 2061: Odyssey Three.
Chandra was a native of Kerala, a state of India. He was a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before becoming a member of the crew of the Alexei Leonov on its mission to Jupiter. His role was to reactivate the HAL 9000 computer so that the Discovery could return to Earth under his guidance. He is the principal designer of the HAL computer, as well as its mentor (it is suggested in 2010 that he was already working on the next generation HAL computer, HAL 10000). Dr. Chandra probably has no family or children; it is remarked several times during the novel of 2010 that he is "alone". HAL's admonition that any error on his part could only be attributed to one thing, "human error", may imply that Dr. Chandra's oversight was responsible for HAL's mischief.
Dr. Chandra conforms widely to the mad scientist stereotype. As well as being a genius, he demonstrates an obsession with his work, to the detriment of other areas of his life. He is socially aloof and quite cold in his dealings with people, often to the point of being uncooperative and rude. This is in contrast with the empathy and understanding he shows to HAL. When HAL malfunctions in the novel 2001 and essentially causes the mission to fail, Dr. Chandra is obviously very upset, regarding HAL as a "lost child" and dreaming of restoring him to life and returning him to Earth. When he reactivates HAL aboard the Discovery, Dr. Chandra starts crying. He is also greatly upset when Discovery and HAL are destroyed at the end of the novel 2010. In the novel 2061, it was revealed that this trauma may have resulted in his death while in hibernation during the Leonov's return to Earth. No medical cause was determined, but it was suggested that he "lost the will to live" (Walter Curnow remarked that Dr. Chandra "couldn't live without HAL").
Dr. Chandra regarded his creations as sentient beings that genuinely feel, as well as display emotions, and scorned the suggestion that they are merely programmed to show emotions (this is the subject of hot debate in the society of the Odyssey universe). He also believes that HAL is alive and is a true life form, once referring to HAL as an example of "silicon-based life".
After reactivating HAL, Dr. Chandra angrily learns that the cause of the malfunction were the instructions to keep the Monolith mission secret from the awake crew members which conflicted with HAL's most basic programming of truthfulness and trust. He generally disliked anyone interfering with his work, or with HAL, even forbidding anyone from speaking to him initially. When it becomes apparent that the Discovery could be returned to Earth, Dr. Chandra volunteers to stay alone on board the Discovery to assist HAL in case anything went wrong with the ship during the several years this would take.
Chandra dislikes alcohol and never drinks it. He does, however, smoke cheroot cigars, which is considered to be his only vice. When he joins the crew of the Leonov, cigar smoking becomes impossible, but Dr. Chandra still brought a small supply of them on board. In a humorous episode of the novel, he is caught smoking one in the toilet, which caused the smoke alarm to go off. Heywood Floyd notes that Chandra looked like a "guilty schoolboy". Dr. Chandra is very embarrassed by this incident; he generally seems to be avoidant of letting others know of his human weaknesses and is also very secretive of his Indian heritage. However, during a conversation in which the crew discuss where on Earth each of them would most like to be, Chandra unexpectedly joins in, mentioning that his father once took him on a pilgrimage to Benares.
In contrast with the rest of the crew of the Leonov, Dr. Chandra is very confident in HAL's abilities and trusts HAL to follow all orders, even when HAL is required to follow orders that would result in HAL's destruction. After the escape from Jupiter, with HAL's assistance, Dr. Chandra credits his cooperation with his using the principles of ahimsa in all his dealing with HAL. Ahimsa would appear to be one of Dr. Chandra's life philosophies, taken from his practice of Hinduism.
Differences between the novel and the film
Dr. Chandra is played by Bob Balaban in the film 2010. The film version of the novel drops his Indian heritage and changes his institutional affiliation to the University of Chicago but retains his emotional ties with HAL. Balaban's performance is mostly cold and unemotional, as in the novel, although Chandra's more abrasive character traits are not explored.