Birth of ISRO – Dr Vikram Sarabhai
August 12, 2019, marks the 100th birth anniversary of Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian Space Programme. At a time, when Chandrayaan-2 is in orbit, it becomes imperative to look back into the journey of this remarkable man and a towering intellectual. Sarabhai’s unparalleled contribution as a scientist and as an institution builder is of great significance. Just as it is difficult to imagine the US Space Programme and its early success without Werhner Von Braun or the Soviets without Sergei Korolev, the Indian Space Programme cannot be evaluated without the contribution of Vikram Sarabhai.
Our space is filled with innumerable mysteries. The universe is an unexplored destination where a lot more is to be found and researched. The scientists of our planet have never given up on space. Every time they come up with new theories and facts about the universe. Indian scientists are no less. There are a lot of brilliant Indian minds who have worked a lot over science and space.
An Educational Phase of Vikram Sarabhai
Vikram Sarabhai was one among such famous and eminent personalities who had a keen interest in astronomy and space. Honoured with the title of “The Father of Indian Space Research”, Vikram Sarabhai was born on 12th August 1919. He was born in Ahmedabad to a very rich and business family of Ambalal Sarabhai and Sarla Devi. The Sarabhai family was visited by many great people like Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru, etc. had a great influence on the life of Sarabhai. This added on to the upbringing and personality building of Vikram Sarabhai.
Since he was from a wealthy family, Sarabhai had the privilege of getting a very good primary education. His intermediate science education was done from Gujarat College. Later, Sarabhai moved to the UK for his higher education. He got his Tripos in Natural Science from St. John’s College, Cambridge University in 1940. After getting the degree, he returned back to India and joined Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore to research on cosmic rays under the guidance of the great scientist C.V. Raman. He had set up various observation stations on solar physics and cosmic rays. Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai Community Service Centre. In 1947, Vikram Sarabhai got his PhD degree from Cambridge. His research on cosmic rays was continued further. After finishing his education, Sarabhai had a very bright career.
Initiation of Career
He had various achievements which were praiseworthy. After returning to India, Sarabhai felt the need of development of science which led to the establishment of Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in November 1947 in Ahmedabad. The very famous, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad was founded by him.
Vikram Sarabhai was one of the important scientists behind the launching of the first Indian satellite- Aryabhatta. In the 1960s, Sarabhai tried to promote science and mathematics by establishing Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai Community Service Centre (VASCSC). The establishment of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was one of the biggest achievements of Vikram Sarabhai. ISRO became the largest government space agency in the world. The first market research organization, Operation Research Group (ORG) was set up by him.
Hands with Homi J Bhabha
In 1962, Vikram Sarabhai stood as a driving force for the establishment of CEPT – Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University in Ahmedabad. This university offered undergraduate and postgraduate programs in disciplines like architecture, planning, and Technology. After convincing the government of the importance of space programmes for a developing country, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai with the help of Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha, who is known as the father of India’s Nuclear Science Program, started the Indian Space Programme with the launch of the first sounding rocket from Thumba near Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on 21 November 1963. In 1965, he founded the Nehru Foundation for Development (NFD) which aims at promoting the study of societal problems and individual development.
Vikram Sarabhai was one person who devoted his life to science. He had a remarkable personality. His brilliance and contributions were rewarded by various awards and recognitions. Dedicated to the use of all aspects of science and technology in general and to space applications in particular as “levers of development,” Sarabhai initiated programs to take education to remote villages through satellite communication and called for the development of satellite-based remote sensing of natural resources.
Contribution in terms of communication
Sarabhai was also the founder of the first Experimental Satellite Earth Communication Station (ESECS) at Ahmedabad in 1967. Later, this became the main centre for all of India’s communication experiments. In May 1966, he was appointed as the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1966 and Padma Vibhushan in 1972.
A famous quote by Dr Vikram Sarabhai says “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.”
Instrumental in establishing the organisation
While setting up Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was one of his greatest achievements, he was also instrumental in establishing various other prestigious institutions in India such as:
- Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad (known as the cradle of space science in India)
- Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad
- Community Science Centre, Ahmedabad
- Darpan Academy for Performing Arts, Ahmedabad (along with his wife)
- Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram
- Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad (This institution came into existence after merging six institutions/centres established by Sarabhai)
- Faster Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR), Kalpakkam
- Variable Energy Cyclotron Project, Calcutta
- Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), Hyderabad
- Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), Jaduguda, Bihar.
Sarabhai died on 30th December 1971 in Kerala. At the early age of 52 years, Vikram Sarabhai made his wonderful image in the field of science. The success of this awesome personality was worth the title “The Father of Indian Space Program”.Vikram Sarabhai spearheaded the country’s space programme for nearly a decade. His death left a crisis in the space training for a brief period, as everyone was used to his towering presence.
To Know More About the Mysteries of Space read,
The Inscrutable Black Holes