Father of Indian Space Program: Vikram Sarabhai
Fondly called the Father of the Indian Space program, Vikram Sarabhai was a man much ahead of his times. Born into a wealthy business family in India, he enjoyed a privileged childhood and the means to pursue all the education he wanted.
From a young age Sarabhai developed a deep interest in science and mathematics. He was a very curious child who loved to explore life. After completing his primary education from India he moved abroad for further studies. He became obsessed with science and all that science has to offer over his course of stay in England. By the time he was back to India, he was fixated on contributing something of relevance to the country. He began researching on cosmic rays at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and such was his dedication that he published his first scientific paper within two years of starting his research!
Early Life: He was born as one of the eight children of Ambalal and Sarla Devi in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India. His family was a very affluent one which managed several textile mills.After passing the intermediate Science examination from the Gujarat College in Ahmedabad he went to England for his further studies. He enrolled at the St. John’s College, University of Cambridge from where he received the Tripos in Natural Sciences in 1940. After coming back to India he joined the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore to carry out research on cosmic rays. This was something he undertook on the advice of the eminent scientist C.V. Raman. His first scientific paper ‘Time Distribution of Cosmic Rays’ was published in 1942. He returned to Cambridge in 1945 to further his research on cosmic rays and earned his PhD for his thesis ‘Cosmic ray investigations in tropical latitudes’.
Dr. Sarabhai was considered as the Father of the Indian space program. He was a great institution builder and established or helped to establish a large number of institutions in diverse fields. He was instrumental in establishing the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad. After returning from Cambridge to an independent India in 1947, he persuaded charitable trusts controlled by his family and friends to endow a research institution near home in Ahmedabad. Thus, Vikram Sarabhai founded the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad on November 11, 1947. He was only 28 at that time. Sarabhai was a creator and cultivator of institutions and PRL was the first step in that direction. Vikram Sarabhai served of PRL from 1966-1971.
He was also Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He along with other Ahmedabad-based industrialists played a major role in the creation of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.The establishment of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was one of his greatest achievements. He successfully convinced the government of the importance of a space programme for a developing country like India after the Russian Sputnik launch.
Dr. Sarabhai emphasized the importance of a space program in his quote: "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."
Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha, widely regarded as the father of India's nuclear science program, supported Dr. Sarabhai in setting up the first rocket launching station in India. This center was established at Thumba near Thiruvananthapuram on the coast of the Arabian Sea, primarily because of its proximity to the equator. After a remarkable effort in setting up the infrastructure, personnel, communication links, and launch pads, the inaugural flight was launched on November 21, 1963 with a sodium vapour payload. As a result of Dr. Sarabhai's dialogue with NASA in 1966, the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) was launched during July 1975 - July 1976 (when Dr.Sarabhai was no more).Dr. Sarabhai started a project for the fabrication and launch of an Indian Satellite. As a result, the first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was put in orbit in 1975 from a Russian Cosmodrome.
Dr. Sarabhai was very interested in science education and founded a Community Science Centre at Ahmedabad in 1966. Now, the Centre is called the Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre.
Some of the most well-known institutions established by Dr. Sarabhai are:
• Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad.
• Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad.
• Community Science Centre, Ahmedabad.
• Darpan Academy for Performing Arts, Ahmedabad (along with his wife).
• Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuramm.
• Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad (This institution came into existence after merging six institutions/centres established by Sarabhai).
• Faster Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR), Kalpakkam.
• Varaiable Energy Cyclotron Project, Calcutta.
• Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), Hyderabad.
• Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), Jaduguda, Bihar.
Vikram Sarabhai is remembered as the Father of the Indian Space Program for his contributions to the field of space science. He founded the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) which eventually became the largest government space agency in the world. This great scientist set up Operations Research Group (ORG), the first market research organization in India. For his visionary work in the field of space science, this scientist was decorated with two of India’s most honorable awards: the Padma Bhushan (1966) and the Padma Vibhushan (awarded posthumously in 1972).