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Dr. Vikram Sarabhai: The man who fathered the Indian space program

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By Nithin Sridhar

On the 12th of August in 1919, Sarla Devi, wife of noted industrialist Ambalal Sarabhai, gave birth to a son in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, who later grew up to become the father of Indian space program.

Picture credit: en.wikipedia.org
Picture credit: en.wikipedia.org

Today is the 96th birth anniversary of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the renowned Indian physicist who was instrumental in the establishment of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Dr. Vikram Sarabhai was one among the eight children of Sarla Devi. His early education happened at a private school and he passed his matriculation from Gujarat College in Ahmedabad. After matriculation, he joined St. John’s College, University of Cambridge in England. In 1940, he received Tripos in Natural Sciences.

In 1942, he got married to Mrinalini Sarabhai, a celebrated Indian Classical dancer and choreographer. When the second World War started, he briefly returned to India and worked under Dr. C.V.Raman at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. In 1945, he went back to Cambridge and completed his PhD.

When India got its independence in 1947, Dr. Sarabhai returned back to India. He persuaded various friends and charitable institutions controlled by his family to fund a research institute in Ahmedabad. His efforts led to the establishment of Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) on 11 November 1947. He set up various observation centers across the country due to his interest in studying solar physics and cosmic rays. He was also instrumental in the establishment of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. But, his most important contribution was the setting up of ISRO.

In 1962, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru founded Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) with Dr. Sarabhai as its chairman. This INCOSPAR later grew and became ISRO in 1969. Dr. Sarabhai had to do a lot of convincing regarding the importance of a space program before the government finally gave a consent to it. Dr. Sarabhai has been often quoted as saying:

There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”

Apart from heading ISRO, Dr. Sarabhai was also appointed as the Chairman of Atomic Commission in 1966, after the death of Dr. Homi Bhabha in an air-crash.

When Dr. Bhabha was alive, he helped Dr. Sarabhai to set up India’s first rocket launching station. The station was established near Thiruvananthapuram on the coast of Arabian Sea and the inaugural flight with sodium vapor payload was launched in November 1963.

The efforts at fabrication and launching of the first Indian satellite was started by Dr. Sarabhai which finally bore fruit in 1975, when “Aryabhata” was put into orbit.

Dr. Sarabhai passed away on 31st December 1971 at Kovalam in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The cause of death was determined as heart attack due to excessive stress. The contribution of Dr. Sarabhai to Indian society is very vast and diverse. He was instrumental in founding many institutions like Community Science Centre in Ahmedabad, Nehru Foundation for Development in Ahmedabad, Ahmedabad Textiles Industrial Research Association (ATIRA), Center for Environmental Planning and Technology, Darpana Academy of Performing Art in Ahmedabad, Faster Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) in Kalpakkam, and Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) in Bihar among many others.

Dr. Sarabhai was awarded Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in the Republic of India, in 1966 and was posthumously awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award bestowed in India.

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10 Famous Indian Scientists Who Made The Difference

The contribution of Indian scientists ranges from our regular cellphone to innovative technologies of the 21st century, from our smart homes to space technology.

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We can’t imagine a day without the assistance provided by the Indian scientists. Wikimedia Commons
We can’t imagine a day without the assistance provided by the Indian scientists. Wikimedia Commons
  • We are always associated with science and its related reach
  • Indian scientists have made some cutting-edge research work in various fields
  • India’s huge strides in the field of Space program is the result of extensive rersearch work done by many famous Indian scientists

Science is something we are surrounded very briskly. Science has occupied us more aggressively than we can ever assume even. From our regular cellphone to innovative technologies of the 21st century, from our smart homes to space technology, it all fits into science and technology. We can’t imagine a day without the assistance provided by the science.

India has come up a long way in the field of science and technology. The invention of zero and the discovery of ‘Raman Effect”, are all credited to Indian scientists, as they have immensely contributed to their research works.

To appreciate the bliss of such comfort, we have compiled a list of fifteen famous Indian scientists who have changed the whole scenario of living and even achieved global recognition for their immense support to the humanity.

1. Vikram Sarabhai

Vikram Sarabhai is considered as the Father of India’s space program. He was born on 12 August 1919. Vikram Sarabhai’s contribution to the Indian space program is well-known. He was the sole man behind the establishment of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and the Nehru Foundation for Development.

Also Read: Rene Laennec: The Man Who Invented Stethoscope

After the launch of the Russian Sputnik satellite, Vikram Sarabhai was able to convince the Indian government about the importance of a space program for a developing nation.

Vikram Sarabhai is considered as the Father of India’s space program. Wikimedia Commons
Vikram Sarabhai is considered as the Father of India’s space program. Wikimedia Commons

He was honoured with many prestigious awards including Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Medal in 1962, Padma Bhushan in 1966 and Padma Vibhushan (posthumously) in 1972

2. APJ Abdul Kalam

The former President of India, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was elite spearhead scientist of India. His contribution remains indispensable in the field of defence and missile programs.  He worked for two of the most decorated Indian institutes, one as the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and other one is Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Abdul Kalam was born on October 15, 1931. In one of his books, he talked about making India a developed nation by 2020. Abdul Kalam’s love for young generation can be gauged by the fact that he had set a goal of meeting 100,000 students in 2 years after his resignation from the role of scientific adviser in 1999.

Abdul Kalam kick-started his career with designing a small helicopter for the Indian Army. After that, he was moved to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) as the project director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III).  The program resulted in the successful deployment of the Rohini satellite in earth’s orbit in July 1980.

Abdul Kalam kick-started his career with designing a small helicopter for the Indian Army. Wikimedia Commons
Abdul Kalam kick-started his career with designing a small helicopter for the Indian Army. Wikimedia Commons

For his contribution towards science and technology, Abdul Kalam was bestowed with prestigious award including Bharat Ratna.

Also Read: All You Need to Know About Jagadish Chandra Bose

He has inspired millions of people around the globe with his dedication and hard work and he still remains the idol for many of us.

 

3. Homi Bhabha

Homi Bhabha is acknowledged as the father of Indian nuclear power. Homi Jehangir Bhabha is better known as Homi Bhabha. He was born on October 30, 1909, in Bombay. He is known for his crucial role in the Quantum Theory.

He started his scientific career in nuclear physics from Great Britain. After completing his education in London, Homi Bhabha returned to India and convince the Congress Party’s senior leaders, especially Jawaharlal Nehru, to start the indigenous nuclear programme. Although, he was very much against the development of atomic bombs, even if the country had enough resources to do so. He rather advocated the use of nuclear energy to wave off India’s misery and poverty.

Finally, Homi Bhabha was decorated as the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India.

Homi Bhabha is known for his crucial role in the Quantum Theory. Wikimedia Commons
Homi Bhabha is known for his crucial role in the Quantum Theory. Wikimedia Commons

He lost his life in an air crash near Mont Blanc on 24 January 1966. There are many conspiracy theories and speculation regarding the role of CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) in the plane crash. As some reports suggested, CIA was very much averse to the advancement of India’s nuclear program.

4. Venkatraman Radhakrishnan

Venkatraman Radhakrishnan was an Indian space scientist and is known for his design and fabrication of ultra-light aircraft and sailboats. Radhakrishnan was born on May 18, 1929, and died at the age of 81.

Also Read: Transforming Human Race: Human to TransHuman to PostHuman

Radhakrishnan was an internationally honoured Astrophysicist. His work helped in understanding the space and many mysteries surrounding pulsars, galaxy structures, interstellar clouds and other celestial bodies. For his work in space exploration, he was taken as the member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

5. M Visvesvaraya

Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya was a distinguished Indian scientist, engineer, scholar and statesman. He stressed upon industrialization. He wanted India to be at par with industrialized nations as he believed that India can become developed through industries.

M Visvesvaraya was born on 15 September 1860. He is honoured with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest award.

M Visvesvaraya stressed upon industrialization in India. Wikimedia Commons
M Visvesvaraya stressed upon industrialization in India. Wikimedia Commons

M Visvesvaraya is acknowledged for his work of inventing ‘automatic sluice gates’ and ‘block irrigation system’ which are still wonders in engineering. He also innovated an efficient way of filtering water through ‘Collector Wells’ in 1895 which was a sensation in itself.

Due to his valuable contribution to engineering, his birthday is celebrated as Engineer’s Day in India.

6. Jagadish Chandra Bose

Jagadish Chandra Bose is known for pioneering in the study of radio and microwave optics which helped in the study of plants and establishing the experimental science in the Indian sub-continent. He was born on 30 November 1858. People used to call him as Acharya J.C. Bose.  Jagadish Chandra Bose was a multi-talented personality, as he was well versed as a polymath, physicist, biologist, botanist and archaeologist.

Jagadish Chandra Bose was the first person to demonstrating wireless communication with the help of semiconductor junctions to detect radio signals. His other works include the invention of the Crescograph. Through this, he was able to study the plant’s response to various stimuli and proved that plants can feel pain, understand affection etc.

Jagadish Chandra Bose was the first person to demonstrating wireless communication. Wikimedia Commons
Jagadish Chandra Bose was the first person to demonstrating wireless communication. Wikimedia Commons

He is also considered to be the father of open technology. He wanted people to work on his developments and thus never patented his work. Jagadish Chandra Bose was also very much into the writing of science fiction and he is also considered as the father of Bengali science fiction.

 

7. Subrahmanyan Chandrashekar

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was the nephew of the famous Indian scientist, CV Raman. The term, “Chandrasekhar limit” is named after him. He was born on October 19 and died on August 21, 1995, at the age of 82 in Chicago.

Also Read: 11 Must-Know Facts About Asima Chatterjee

His best-known work was in the radiation of energy from stars, particularly white dwarf stars, which are the dying fragments of stars. For his mathematical theory of black holes, Chandrasekhar was conferred Nobel Prize for Physics in 1983.

In 1953, Chandrasekhar was granted United States citizenship.

8. Satyendra Nath Bose

Satyendra Nath Bose was popularly known as SN Bose. He was an Indian physicist and known for his work in the field of ‘bosons‘, which were named after him by Paul Dirac to commemorate his work in the field. He specialized in quantum mechanics.

Satyendra Nath was also awarded India’s second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan in 1954. Wikimedia Commons
Satyendra Nath was also awarded India’s second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan in 1954. Wikimedia Commons

Once Satyendra Nath sent a short article on “Planck’s Law and the Hypothesis of Light Quanta” to Albert Einstein. Interestingly, this article was accepted by Einstein and translated into German. Later it got published in Zeitschrift für Physik under Bose’s name, in 1924. Satyendra Nath also gave a lecture at the University of Dhaka on the theory of radiation and the ultraviolet catastrophe.

The Rabindranath Tagore’s book on science, ‘Visva–Parichay’ was dedicated to him in 1937. Satyendra Nath was also awarded India’s second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan in 1954.

9. CV Raman

Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman is popularly known as CV Raman and was an Indian scientist. He was born in Tiruchirapalli on November 7, 1888. CV Raman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 for his pioneering work on scattering of light. He was the first Asian and first non-White to receive any Nobel Prize in the sciences.

His other works include the working of the acoustics of musical instruments. CV Raman was the one who probed into the sound of the Indian drums such as the Tabla and the Mridangam. “Raman scattering” still remains most accepted and notable work of CV Raman. He explained that, when light passes through a transparent material, some of the deflected light changes into wavelength and this causes “Raman Effect”.

Unfortunately, in October 1970, he fell unconscious while working and was immediately moved to a hospital. Doctors advised him to stay there but he was adamant about moving to his Institute (the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore) and live his last moments in the vicinity of flowers of his institute. He was laid to rest on 21 November 1970.

CV Raman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 for his pioneering work on scattering of light. Wikimedia Commons
CV Raman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 for his pioneering work on scattering of light. Wikimedia Commons

Before taking his last breath, CV Raman uttered, “Do not allow the journals of the Academy to die, for they are the sensitive indicators of the quality of Science being done in the country and whether science is taking root in it or not.”

10. Srinivasa Ramanujan

Ramanujam was an Indian mathematician who, with almost no formal training in pure mathematics, made extraordinary contributions. His work includes mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series, and continued fractions.

Ramanujam was born on December 22, 1887, and by age 11, he hushed up the mathematical knowledge of two college students who were lodgers at his home.

By the age of 13, he mastered a book on advanced trigonometry written by S. L. Loney and came up with his own theorems.

During his stay in England, Ramanujam faced a lot of health problems due to the scarcity of vegetarian food. After that, he came back India and died at the age of 32.

Tamil Nadu celebrates 22 December (Ramanujan’s birthday) as ‘State IT Day’, memorializing his unprecedented feats in mathematics.