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Indian Scientists> Dr Abdul Kalam
| Dr Abdul Kalam
Creator of missiles in independent India, a great scientist in the real sense of the term, and last but not least, former President of India, Dr Abdul Kalam, was born on October 15, 1931 at the popular pilgrimage centre and island Rameswaram in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. His full name is Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. In short, he is known as APJ Abdul Kalam.
Little Abdul was born in a poor, but honest and cultured family. He lived with his father, mother, two brothers and sister In the old ancestral house In Masjld lane of Rameswaram. The famous temple of Rameswaram was located just ten minutes away from his house. His father was not very educated, but he was practical, pious and hardworking. The main source of the family’s Income was from ferrying the pilgrims across the sea between Rameswaram and Dhanushkotl, 20 km away in the sea, where Lord Rama bathed and thus sanctified the place. Despite financial difficulties, he admitted this bright child at the Rameswaram Elementary School.
According to Dr Abdul Kalam, as stated in one of his write-ups, some cultured Hindu families stayed near his home and among them lived the high priest of the main temple of Rameswaram. When he was a child, Abdul received a lot of love and care from this cultured neighbour. The good values of the high priest’s family influenced Kalam. He understood what was said in the Bhagwad Gita and in what context. Even today he remains a strict vegetarian and draws inspiration from the Gita.
When World War II ended, 15-year-old Abdul asked his father’s permission to study at the secondary school at the district headquarters in Ramanathapuram. His father gave his blessings and he was admitted to the Swartz High School run by Christian missionaries in Ramanathapuram and stayed at the hostel. Though his parents faced difficulties, they had kept his wish in mind and encouraged him to study. This bright and intelligent boy won the hearts of his teachers as well. They in turn helped him. After passing from Swartz High School, in 1950, Kalam went to the nearby city of Tiruchchirappalli and Joined the St Joseph’s College for further studies. Now he had gained confidence. His English professor. Rev. Father R N Sequlera was his hostel warden. He stayed for four years in the college and got his B.Sc. degree. In the last year of his college he realised that the study of Physics did not interest him. He Joined the • Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), and chose the aviation engineering course. He was now clear in his mind that he wanted to become a pilot. After three years of study, he obtained a diploma, standing first in the examination.
After completing his MIT course, Kalam Joined the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., Bangalore, as a trainee. When he successfully completed his training and graduation in aeronautical engineering, he had two options. Both were to his liking. One was to Join the Indian Air Force and move ahead as a pilot. The other was to join as Director of Technical Development and Production (DTD&P), under the Ministry of Defence. He sent applications to both and was called for interview at both places. Reaching Delhi, he appeared for the interview and it went off as he had expected.
One week after this interview he had to present himself before the Indian Air Force Selection Committee in Dehra Dun. Here besides physical fitness, many other aspects were taken into consideration. Eight candidates were to be selected from 25 applicants. Kalam ranked in the ninth position. He felt he had lost the opportunity to realise his dream of becoming a pilot. Feeling sad and depressed, he went to Rishikesh. A dip in the holy Ganga, calmed him.
He then went to the nearby Shivananda Ashrama to seek comfort from Swami Shivananda. Smilingly, the Swamiji asked him the reason for his sadness. Kalam replied that his having missed an opportunity to work in the Air Force had pained him. With a reassuring demeanour Swamiji told him, nobody can change destiny. What was destined to happen has happened! Therefore, do not despair. Probably, it must have been for the better. So, resign yourself to God’s wish. Talking to Swamiji, Kalam felt at peace with himself. Bowing before the Swamiji, he took leave and returned to New Delhi.
An appointment letter from DTD&P to Join duty as Senior Scientific Assistant at a salary of Rs 250 per month, awaited him. Kalam stayed in north India for three years. One of his earlier assignments was to design an aircraft which could fly faster than sound. In-between he was shifted to the Aircraft and Armament Testing Unit (A&ATU) for a year at the industrial town of Kanpur. Here he learnt how planes are serviced and how damaged and womout parts are replaced.
Kalam was then transferred to the newly established aerospace unit called the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) in Bangalore. He was asked to lead a team of four scientists. The group was given the responsibility of building an indigenous hovercraft in three years. The then Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon wanted the work to be completed at the earliest. Whenever he visited Bangalore, the minister would make it a point to see the progress of the project. The hovercraft was named ‘Nandi’ after Lord Shiva’s vehicle and was a success. A temporary model that could lift 550 kg payload was also prepared. Once the minister wanted to travel in the hovercraft and enjoyed the journey. Thereafter, Krishna Menon left the Defence ministry and the project too, was shelved. But word spread about the successful demonstration of the hovercraft and a number of scientists and engineers visited the ADE.
One day, the head of the establishment told Kalam that a dignitary was coming to see the project. The dignitary inquired in detail about the project and its progress. He asked various questions. Kalam had no inkling who the gentleman was. Actually he was the Director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Professor M G K Menon. A week after Prof Menon’s visit, Kalam received a call from the Indian Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) for an interview at Mumbai (Bombay), for the post of rocket engineer. Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the Fhther of India's space programme, Prof Menon and an official from the Department of Atomic Energy interviewed Kalam. Kalam was quite impressed by the way Dr Sarabhai conducted the interview. The next day he was informed that he had been selected as rocket engineer. During the following days his necessary basic training in the computer department of TIFR started. According to him, the environment at TIFR was genial and totally different from other government departments.
By the end of 1962 the government had decided to set up a rocket launching centre at Thumba in Kerala. Kalam was selected along with a team of scientists to go to US for a six months’ training in rocket engineering at NASA (National Aeronautics & Space Administration). Before leaving for the US, he went to Rameswaram to spend a few days with his family. The whole family was thrilled to hear that he had got an opportunity to go abroad. His father thanked God. Tears of joy welled up in everyone’s eyes.
Six months later, Kalam and his group returned to India. The country’s first rocket Nike-Apache was gifted by NASA. The rocket was launched on November 21, 1963. Kalam had taken care of all the technical responsibilities. After its success the mood of scientists and technicians was very upbeat. They started designing and launching a series of rockets called Rohini. Thereafter at a meeting called by Dr Sarabhai it was decided to march forward in the direction of making satellite launch vehicles (SLVs) to place artificial satellites in orbit. On November 20, 1967, the Rohini-75 satellite was placed in orbit from the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS).
In February 1969, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi officially opened the equatorial rocket launching centre at Thumba for international space research. This ensured scientists from any country to make use of the facility at the experimental station. Earlier, in 1968, the Indian Rocket Society was established. In eastern India, around 100 km north of Chennai, at the Sriharikota island in Andhra Pradesh, the country’s second rocket launching centre was set up. The Indian Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was reconstituted and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a new government organisation was established under the Department of Space in 1975.
On December 30, 1971, after attending a panel meeting in Delhi, Kalam was returning to Thumba. On that day Dr Sarabhai was in Thumba. Kalam telephoned him from Delhi and told him about his meeting. Sarabhai told Kalam to wait at Thiruvananthapuram airport after disembarking as he was leaving for Mumbai. But when Kalam landed at the airport he was shocked to learn that a few hours earlier, Sarabhai had passed away following a heart attack. Prof Satish Dhawan was appointed the new Chairman of ISRO. Prof Dhawan named Kalam, Project Manager-SLV.
In 1976, Kalam’s father passed away at the age of 102 years. Some time later his mother too died. These personal losses affected him deeply. But he did not allow them to come in the way of his work.
As head of ISRO’s Satellite Launch Vehicle Project (SLV-3), Kalam did a wonderful and successful Job. His biggest gain was the opportunity he got to discuss and interact with foreign experts in various fields and came to realize that technology can be used to further the development of missiles. The SLV-3 was launched successfully on July 18, 1980. Elated colleagues lifted him on their shoulders. Immediately the success of the programme was announced on radio and TV. The then Prime Minister late Smt Indira Gandhi congratulated the entire team on its success. India thus joined a handful of elite nations to achieve such a feat. In his hour of success, Kalam remembered Dr Sarabhai and thanked Dr Satlsh Dhawan and Dr Brahm Prakash for their guidance and vision. On January 26, 1981, the President conferred a Padma Bhushan on Abdul Kalam.
On May 31, 1982, Kalam bade farewell to ISRO after eighteen eventful years to head the country’s missile development programme at DRDL (Defence Research and Development Laboratory) in June 1982.
In the initial 15-20 years after independence, India’s armed forces had to totally depend on foreign help for spare parts and other defence equipment. Foreign powers pushed their old and outdated military hardware to the developing countries like India. As if doing a favour, they provided the equipment and also earned lots of money.
To overcome this shortfall, the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) was started at the Hyderabad-based Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL). Its entire responsibility was given to Kalam. Despite facing economic difficulties, he took forward this programme, working for 12 to 15 hours a day. For this, he undertook a deep and detailed study of missiles and found five types of missiles absolutely necessary. The IGMDP Project was launched on July 27, 1983.
The rocket tipped with bombs is known as a missile. Missile Is actually a destructive weapon. It has nothing to do with the rocket used In space flight. Missiles can be fired from aeroplanes, submarines or from the ground. The missiles that can be controlled by radio waves or through some internal mechanism are termed as guided missiles. These missiles can locate their assigned target at the fixed place. Antimissiles are used to stop the fired missiles on their tracks and destroy them. Initially, only Germany, America, Russia and China produced missiles. India has begun producing various missiles like Prlthvt, Aakash, Nag, Agni, Trishul and Brahmos with Russian collaboration.
On June 26, 1984, under his leadership the ‘Devil Mission’, especially developed for the army was successfully tested. To see its progress, the Prime Minister late Shri Rajiv Gandhi visited the site. In August 1985, Kalam was Invited along with three other colleagues by the American Air Force to pay a visit to their facilities.
On September 16, 1985, the Trishul missile was successfully test fired from the Sriharikota (SHAR) testing range. On the morning of February 25, 1988, at 11.23 hours, the 100 per cent indigenous Prithvi missile was successfully test fired from SHAR. This missile can carry a bomb load of 1,000 kg and fire at a distance of 150 km. Western nations displayed concern and veiled threats over its success. Seven countries decided not to deliver the necessary raw materials to India.
On the morning of May 22, 1989, at 7.10 hours, the nuclear capable ‘AgnV missile was successfully test fired. On Republic Day, Januaiy 26, 1990, Kalam was conferred the Padma Vibhushan. Jadavpur University and then IIT Mumbai conferred on him honorary doctorate degrees.
The media started calling him ‘India’s Missile Man'. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1997, the youngest scientist to get the award.
Kalam was appointed as Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister. On November 25, 1999, he was appointed the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Central Government and was accorded cabinet rank. Making plans till 2020, he has also published a book. ‘India-2020'.
Kalam resigned from his post of Principal Scientific Adviser and planned to serve science. He joined the Anna University of Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) chose him to contest the presidential election. With a very good majority he was elected as President of India.
On July 25, 2002, Kalam was sworn in as the President of India by Justice B N Kirpal, Chief Justice of India. Kalam became the eleventh president of our country.
Always smiling, Kalam is simple, humble and soft spoken. He patiently listens to children, friends and colleagues and explains to them in a simple and easy way. We wish and pray to the almighty that this great son of India continues to serve the country and realise his mission of making India a developed country.