The Ingenious Multifaceted Sarabhai!
Authors: Pooja S, Rohith V, Pranav PD and Sibsankar Palit
The LIFE- To & Beyond colleagues & team
“He who can listen to music in the midst of noise can achieve great things”.
In this quote, Sarabhai emphasises achieving harmony in the state of disorder to attain greatness.
Perhaps you may have heard about the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the most cost-effective and efficient space organisation in the whole world, the one that succeeded first-time in its Mars mission and also with a multitude of other ambitious missions. But... do you know the people who were involved in its making?
Let me introduce you to Dr. Vikram Sarabhai - the man involved in the organisation's very foundation and considered to be the Father of ISRO. This remarkable personality also contributed to India and the world in terms of institutional building and serving society through science and technology. He also excelled in helping India to achieve global standing in nuclear power and was Founder of the first Indian Institute of Management (IIM).
A multitalented guy, right?
So, let's get to know more about our hero, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai…..
Early Life & Education
Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai was born to Ambalal Sarabhai and Sarala Devi on the 12th August 1919 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. His father was a textile industrialist and his mother a teacher, who ran the school in which Sarabhai underwent his primary education. Sarabhai had a keen interest in maths and science, and after passing a higher education intermediate science exam at Gujarat College, Ahmedabad, he then studied 'Natural sciences' at St John's College, University of Cambridge in England, graduating in 1940.
Unfortunately, the sudden outbreak of the Second World War forced his return to India, where he joined the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore). He conducted research on cosmic rays under the guidance of another pioneering Indian scientist and Institution builder Dr. Homi J Bhabha and supervision of Indian Nobel Laureate, Sir Chandrasekhara V. Raman. Within 2 years of his research, he submitted his first scientific paper on the "Time distribution of cosmic rays" in 1942. He finally returned to Cambridge University in 1945 and obtained a PhD in 1947, with his thesis entitled “Cosmic Ray Investigations in Tropical Latitudes”.
The Multifaceted Sarabhai in brief!
Sarabhai returned to India after his PhD and established the Physics Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad, originally focused in research on cosmic rays and space physics. It further developed into a specialist centre for Planetary Sciences research and other sub-fields of Astronomy, like Astrophysics, Astrochemistry, and even Astrobiology. He also founded the Ahmedabad Textile Industry's Research Association in 1947. Sarabhai was the first person in the country to realise the importance of management education for the empowerment of a nation and consequently established the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) in 1961. The Operations research Group, which was India's first market research organisation, was also set up by him.
In 1962 Sarabhai initiated the Indian National Committee for Space and Research (INCOSPAR), which later went on to become ISRO (1969), contributing to the empowerment of the nation in the Space Sector and its benefits for society. Sarabhai also established the Space Applications Centre (SAC) in Ahmedabad, and the Community Science Centre, later renamed the Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre in his honour, and the Nehru Foundation (1965) focused on solving problems in society.
After the sad demise of close friend and colleague Dr. Bhabha, Sarabhai was invited to become Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1966, and contributed greatly to the setting up of India's nuclear power plants. He also began developing indigenous nuclear technologies for defence purposes, initiated the Fast Breeder Test Reactor in Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, and the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), West Bengal.
Sarabhai & the Indian Space Program
Under his leadership India’s first rocket launching station in Thumba (now the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, VSSC) was set up near the magnetic equator in Trivandrum, Kerala. He took an active part in the space research and successfully launched India’s first sounding rocket (RH-75 ROHINI SERIES) on 21st November, 1963.
Fifty-nine years later to the day, on 21st November 2022, we celebrate the anniversary of that ambitious launch and this blog pays tribute to India’s space hero, Sarabhai, and his team. There has now been nearly 60 years of outstanding space exploration initiatives by the Indian Space Program, with 86 successful launches to its credit, and yet more to be achieved!
Sarabhai was the driving force and planner behind India's first satellite Aryabhatta, sent into orbit in 1975 with the help of a Russian Cosmodrome. He established the SAC that helped transmit a nationwide satellite-based television program for students and teachers, and he frequently worked with international space agencies to make space knowledge more accessible to Indians, and to create an Indian space ecosystem. An agreement made with NASA in the 1970s saw their satellites used to deliver educational programs to over 5,000 Indian villages. He encouraged the implementation of a space research program focused on assisting the development of the country and benefitting its people.
Sarabhai honoured & featured
Sarabhai was honoured with some of India’s most prestigious civilian awards: Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Medal (1962); the Padma Bhushan (1966); and posthumously the Padma Vibhushan (1972). His birthday on 12th August is celebrated every year as Space Science Day, and the Community Science Centre was renamed after him. The International Astronomical Union has named the Bessel A lunar crater in the Sea of Serenity in his honour, the Sarabhai Crater, while India’s Chandrayaan-2 Vikram lander was also named after him, as was ISRO’s VSSC rocket production facility in Trivandrum. The first privately funded rocket, launched by Skyroot Aerospace, is named the Vikram – S in his memory, as is India’s most wonderful engineering innovation, the Vikas engine, which has successfully powered many of ISRO’s rockets. Finally, the lives of both Homi J. Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai have been highlighted recently with the streaming of a new television series, called Rocket Boys, an Indian Hindi-language biographical television series, released on Sony LIV.
Personal life & demise
During his lifetime, Sarabhai practiced Jainism, an Indian religion advocating a life of nonviolence and reducing harm to living things. He married classical dancer Mrinalini in 1942 and they had two children, a son Karthikeya and daughter Mallika. Sarabhai died suddenly of cardiac arrest on 30th December 1971 (aged 52 years) in Kovalam, Kerala.
In summary, while superpower countries were deploying space technology for control and military power, Sarabhai had a different vision. He dreamt of a unique space program for India – where satellites would be used for mass education, development communication, weather forecasting, and mineral prospecting. The legacy of Sarabhai still lives on today and will continue in the Indian Space Program, the space community and nuclear program, with all focused on homegrown talent, promoting the development of the Indian people.
As Sarabhai befittingly said:
“The development of the nation is intimately linked with understanding and application of science and technology by its people”.
So perhaps - Don’t focus on winning. Focus on the best you can achieve for yourself - sums up Dr. Sarabhai’s vision of achieving greatness for India and the emerging communities with the modest of resources.
Acknowledgment: Team LIFE- To & Beyond acknowledges the efforts of Pooja S, Rohith V, Pranav PD and Sibsankar Palit for their substantial contributions to this blog. We also extend our gratitude to Dr. Thais Russomano for the opportunity to work on this blog.
This blog is promoted and supported by the Space Crew Working Group
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