100th Birthday of Vikram Sarabhai – Father of India’s Space Program – ISRO

(Last Updated On: August 19, 2019)

 Vikram Sarabhai

After the grand success of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan, India is all set to hoist its flag on the south pole of the Moon – Mission Chandrayaan 2. This was all possible only by the collective efforts of the hundreds of engineers of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) but that is a topic for another article. Today I want to reintroduce the readers and space enthusiasts to the man behind ISRO.

Vikram Sarabhai
Vikram Sarabhai – Father of the Indian space program

Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s Space Program, is regarded as one of the greatest scientists of modern India. He also made a significant contribution to the nuclear program. Today is the 100th birthday of Vikram Sarabhai, and here is all about him.

Childhood and Education

Vikram Sarabhai was born on 12th August in 1919, to Ambalal Sarabhai, a well-known textile industrialist in Ahmedabad, and Sarala Devi. It was the auspicious day of Garuda Panchami. He underwent homeschooling primarily.

His father, Ambalal Sarabhai, was an influential man. Many celebrated people would visit the Sarabhai’s house in Ahmedabad. Among them were Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, J. Krishna Murthi, Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Maulana Azad, C. F. Andrews, C. V. Raman, etc. Mahatma Gandhi stayed in their home for some time while recovering from an illness. This interaction with such great minds influenced Vikram’s thought process and character from a very young age. His success could already be anticipated.

He was absolutely brilliant at mathematics and science, and with his hard-working nature, he always managed to be at the top of the class. He went to Cambridge after completing his college education in India and in 1939, he passed the Tripos in Physics, considered to be one of the toughest exams back then. On his return to India, he joined the Physics Department at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, which was then headed by the renowned physicist C.V.Raman. His counterpart was another renowned physicist Dr. Homi Bhabha who was doing research on Mesons and Cosmic Rays.

He set up the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad in 1948, with Dr. K.R.Ramanathan as it’s the first director. Starting off with just a few students and some lab assistants, it soon grew into one of India’s premier institutions. Even when he got busy in his later years, Vikram still maintained close contact with the institution he founded.

When Homi Jehangir Bhabha, died in an air crash in 1966, many wondered who would take over Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). It was a large void to be filled, however Vikram Sarabhai more than proved to be equal to the task, he did his work quietly to the best of his ability and guided India’s fledgling nuclear program in the right direction.

Establishments

His legacy was vast. He established many institutions that have been contributing to our country in various fields.

  • Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad was the result of his dream to have a world-class management institute in India.
  • The first market research organization in India, Operations Research Group (ORG) was again founded by him.
  • He also set up the Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association, commonly known as ATIRA, to provide support and guidance to Ahmedabad’s flourishing textile industry.
  • Sarabhai Community Science Center in Ahmedabad was set up by him to popularize science education.
  • He also played a key role in setting up Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University (CEPT University) in Ahmedabad in 1962 which offers UG and PG programs in disciplines like architecture, planning, and technology.
  • He founded the Nehru Foundation for Development which promotes the study of society and individual development.
  • During the 1960s he also established the Vikram A. Sarabhai Community Science Centre (VASCSC) for promoting science and mathematics education among students and the general public. The organization aimed at stimulating interest in science subjects among the masses.
  • Sarabhai was fully supported in his ventures by Dr. Homi Bhabha who was a pioneer in the field of nuclear research in India. Bhabha helped Sarabhai in setting up the first rocket launching station at Thumba on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The inaugural flight was launched on 21st November 1963.
  • His most significant contribution to India was the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) which he helped to establish in 1969. The major objective of the organization is to advance space technology and apply it for national benefits.
  • Some other institutions established by him include- Faster Breeder Test Reactor in Kalpakam, Variable Energy Cyclotron Project in Kolkata, ECIL in Hyderabad, Uranium Corporation of India Ltd, etc.
  • It was not just the sciences, along with his wife Mrinalini he founded Darpana Academy of Performing Arts to promote culture.

All his contributions made by him make Indians proud. 12th August 2019 marks his hundredth birth anniversary. This article is a tribute – to the man who built modern India in all dimensions required to pronounce itself successful – from me and the whole team of Go Physics. He has inspired me and millions of other young minds. He proves that science and entrepreneurship are but two faces of the same coin.

Fardeen Ahmed

Fardeen Ahmed

He is a B.Sc. graduate and preparing for his Masters in Physics. He is a physics and philosophy enthusiast passionate about teaching Physics after completing his education. He's also a poet and has written many poems in English and Urdu.

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