On Vikram Sarabhai's 100th birthday, ten things you might not have know about him

Known as the Father of India's space program, Dr Sarabhai was the single-greatest influence in the establishment of ISRO.

tech2 News Staff August 12, 2019 12:25:15 IST
On Vikram Sarabhai's 100th birthday, ten things you might not have know about him

Today, on 12 August 2019, India and her space industry are celebrating a very special person in the history of India's space program. The day marks the 100-year birth anniversary of Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, the founding father of ISRO, and a rare combination of scientist, innovator, industrialist and visionary. The award-winning Indian physicist, who was more popularly remembered as "the father of India’s space program," has been brought to life in an inspired illustration by Pavan Rajurkar, an artist based in Mumbai.

Vikram Sarabhai was born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on 12 August 1919 to a wealthy family of industrialists. He attended Gujarat College before traveling to England to earn his doctorate at Cambridge University. During his time at Cambridge, he studied cosmic rays and published many-a-research paper on it. On returning to India, he founded the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad in November 1947, followed by the Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad, and guided the establishment of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

On Vikram Sarabhais 100th birthday ten things you might not have know about him

Vikram Sarabhai

While there's plenty that we've heard time and again about the pioneering scientist, innovator and leader Dr Sarabhai. But there's a lot more to know about him and his work. Here are some things that you might not have known about the great scientist.

On India & her space missions

After the launch of Russia’s Sputnik satellite, Dr Sarabhai felt the need for India to have a space agency as well. He convinced the Indian government to start the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) program with the following 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."

On Vikram Sarabhais 100th birthday ten things you might not have know about him

Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Dr APJ Kalam - A photograph from the early stages of the Indian space program. Image credit ISRO

INSCOPAR was established under Jawaharlal Nehru's term. As it grew in size and ambition, it was named the Indian Space Research Organisation, or ISRO for short.

India's first rocket launch centre

The Indian government agreed to the space program and Dr Sarabhai received the support of Dr Homi Bhabha, who would come to be known as the father of nuclear science program. He helped Dr Sarabhai set up the first rocket launching station in India. It was built in St Mary Magdalene Church, in a fishing village called Thumba near Thiruvanathapuram and this location was chosen because it lies along the magnetic equator of the Earth. The first flight was a sodium vapour payload and was launched ion 21 November 1963.

On Vikram Sarabhais 100th birthday ten things you might not have know about him

St Mary Magdalene Church, the site of the first rocket launch in India.

There is a space museum within the Church and is considered as the Mecca for rocket science in India. ISRO still uses the site for launching sounding rockets.

The first Indian satellite, Aryabhata

Dr Sarabhai started a project that would lead to the building of India’s first artificial satellite orbiting Earth. Launched in July 1976, Aryabhata was launched four years after the death of Dr Sarabhai on the Kapustin Yar a  Russian rocket. It was named after an Indian astronomer and mathematician.

On Vikram Sarabhais 100th birthday ten things you might not have know about him

India's first satellite Aryabhata. Image credit:

More than just a scientist

He set up the Operations Research Group, India's first market research organization that aimed to apply modern analytical research to meet the needs of clients. This was one of the earliest efforts in India to apply analytics to a business environment. The company conducts studies, surveys and polls on behalf of its clients to this day.

He set up IIM-Ahmedabad

Dr Sarabhai realized the need for an institution of management and spearheaded the establishment of the second Indian Institute of Management (at the time) in India in Ahmedabad. With the help and influence of other Ahmedabad-based industrialists, Sarabhai sowed the seeds of IIM-A and several other institutions over the years, making an enormous contribution towards the development and prosperity of India.

Co-founder of a dance academy

Dr Sarabhai married world-renowned classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai in 1942. The classical dancer and innovator-scientists together established the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad. Their daughter Mallika Sarabhai runs the school today, as she has been for the past 30 years.

On Vikram Sarabhais 100th birthday ten things you might not have know about him

Vikram Sarabhai and his wife Mrinalini.

Mysterious death

On 30 December 1971, Dr Sarabhai passed away rather suddenly at the age of 52. He died in a hotel room in Kerala after witnessing the launch of a Russian rocket and laying the foundation stone of the Thumba railway station on the same day. Headlines on New Year's Eve in India could have been anything that day — an Indo-Pak war was raging and India was deliberating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

But newspapers on 31 December 1971 just screamed, "Dr Vikram Sarabhai dead!"

The stamp of approval

The Indian Postal Service released a postal stamp in his name, on his first death anniversary in 1972. It has a portrait of Sarabhai. In the background is the Rohini rocket, after it was launched from the Thumba Equatorial Rocket launching station near Trivandrum. There is a Peace dove carrying a branch in its beak.

On Vikram Sarabhais 100th birthday ten things you might not have know about him

The Sarabhai stamp released on his first death anniversary. Image credit: India Post

A crater on the moon

Dr Sarabhai has a crater on the moon named after him! In 1974, a moon crater was named the Sarabhai crater by the International Astronomical Union in Sydney, Australia. It is a small, circular crater with an 8 km diameter, located on the northeast part of the moon, near the crater Bessel in the Sea of Tranquility.

Previously, it was known as Bessel-A.

On Vikram Sarabhais 100th birthday ten things you might not have know about him

The Sarabhai crater on the moon. Image credit: NASA

Chandrayaan 2 lander named after Vikram Sarabhai

On 22 July, ISRO launched the first lander-rover module from India to travel and long on the moon and study it. The lander that is carrying the rover has been named Vikram after the ISRO founder. The Vikram lander won't just make history for India if it lands successfully, it will also act as a communication link between the rover and orbiter, relaying information and visuals from the moon to mission control as the Pragyan rover takes its first rolls on the moon's surface.

On Vikram Sarabhais 100th birthday ten things you might not have know about him

ISRO staff working on the Vikram Lander from the Chandrayaan 2 mission at the ISRO Satellite Integration and test establishment (ISITE), in Bengaluru. Image: PTI.

(Also Read: Vikram Sarabhai's 100th: Words from the award-winning leader's 1971 speech remain important for India today)

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