“He who can listen to the music in the midst of noise can achieve great things.” This is stated by a visionary scientist who took India beyond the skies and contributed extensively to building the future of the country. Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian space program who helped develop nuclear power in the country, was born on 12th August 1919. On his 103rd birth anniversary, we take a look into the incredible journey of the man who not only is credited for putting the first Indian satellite but also, for taking education to remote villages through satellite communication.
Celebrating the birth of a Genius
Do you know, it was APJ Abdul Kalam who once famously called Vikaram Sarabhai the ‘Mahatama Gandhi of Indian Science.’ It must have been his geniuses that made him India’s most admired scientist. Born in Ahmedabad, into a family of industrialists, Dr Sarabhai’s father – Ambala Sarabhai used to build Calico Mills, one of Ahmedabad’s oldest textile mills that ran for over a century. Most of his educational years were passed in Ahmedabad at Gujarat College but later, he shifted to the University of Cambridge, England, where he took his tripos in natural sciences in 1940. Upon returning to India, Sarabhai undertook his first research in cosmic rays under physicist Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman at the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bengaluru. In 1947, he wrote a thesis named “Cosmic Ray Investigations in Tropical Latitude” in Cambridge, before finally returning to India to lay the foundation stone of a Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad. He was only 28 at that time.
Tracing the Success thereafter
India has witnessed innumerable milestones and successes of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) since its inception. After its establishment, in 1962, Dr Sarabhai was given ISRO’s charge. It was Sarabhai’s efforts that led to the establishment of the Indian Space Agency as he made the government realise the importance of a space programme for a developing country like India after the Russian Sputnik launch. From ISRO’s archive, 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. 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.”
In his endeavour to do something extraordinary for his nation, Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha, regarded as the father of India’s nuclear science program, joined Sr Sarabhai’s quest! With each other’s support, they set up the first rocket launching station in India. This centre 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 from 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.
The Genius who was Born
Whether it was the SITE project which in 1975-76 used a NASA satellite to beam educational content to 2,400 of India’s poorest villages, or his plan for building agricultural complexes serviced by atomic power and desalinated sea water, all of his projects were a product of an imaginative zeal that just wanted to see India grow and prosper. He worked round the clock every day with a passion to transform India of his vision. Even with everything on his side, he did have his share of critics. There were some who found his ideas wildly impractical. And others who did not appreciate his complex and highly nuanced approach to the sensitive issue of nuclear weapons. But despite his passing away on 30th December 1971, at the age of 52, India lost one of its most dynamic and endearing visionaries.