Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian Space Program passed away 45 years ago

Sarabhai died in a hotel room in Kerla, after witnessing the launch of a Russian rocket, on 30 December 1971.

This year, Isro launched 6 PSLV satellite missions, one of which had twenty satellites on board. The Insat-3DR weather satellite was launched on a GSLV mission, and ISRO tested out a indigenous shuttle, as well as an air breathing scramjet engine. India is a prominent player in the space race today, and owes it to the efforts of the father of the Indian Space Program, Vikram Sarabhai.

ISRO PSLV rockets are considered work horses.

ISRO PSLV rockets are considered work horses.

Sarabhai was born in Ahmadabad to Ambalal Sarabhai and Sarla Devi, one of eight children. The Sarabhais were industrialists who managed numerous textile mills. Vikram Sarabhai had a keen interest in science and mathematics from a very young age. He studied in Gujarat College, Cambridge University and the Indian Institute of Science. He published papers on his researches in Cosmic rays.

The PRL lab initially investigated cosmic rays. Image: PRL.

The PRL lab initially investigated cosmic rays. Image: PRL.

On coming back to India after his second stint at Cambridge, India was a newly independent nation. In 1947, he started the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, which was the precursor to ISRO. PRL is known as the cradle of space sciences in india. The PRL functions now as a unit of the Department of Space, Government of India. PRL conducts fundamental research in many areas including astrophysics, solar physics, geosciences, atmospheric studies and astronomy. PRL plays an important role in the Planex program, an initiative by ISRO to explore and understand the inner solar system.

IIM-A is one of the top management schools in the country

IIM-A is one of the top management schools in the country

In 1961, Sarabhai became the founding director of the Indian Institute of Management - Ahmedabad (IIM-A), the second IIM in the country. In 1961, Sarabhai also founded the Operations Research Group, one of the first market research companies in India. It was one of the earliest efforts in India to apply analytics in business environments. The company conducts studies, surveys and polls on behalf of its clients.

https://twitter.com/vascsc/status/811507579956379648

In the 60s Sarabhai established the Vikram A. Sarabhai Community Science Centre (VASCSC), an effort to popularise science among students, teachers and the common public. VASCSC educates students on science by using interesting activities and experiments. The centre hosts open houses where visitors can play around with thousands of models, demonstrations and scientific toys. The centre also hosts science based activity camps for students during summer vacations. Sarabhai has also founded the Nehru Foundation for Development (NFD), a development oriented think tank and the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) university, which works with the design, planning and construction of human habitats.

Aryabhata, India's first satellite. Image: ISAC.

Aryabhata, India's first satellite. Image: ISAC.

During the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the United States used the Syncom-3 satellite to transmit the games across the Pacific in real time. The transmission by the satellite made Sarabhai realise the importance of having a space program for India. Sarabhai convened a meeting of leading researchers as the Director of PRL, and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was founded as a result. Initially, the organisation did not use its own launch vehicles or satellites. The importance of satellite transmissions was demonstrated with 'Krishi Darshan', a television program for the benefit of farmers. Sarabhai was instrumental in the development of India's first Indigenous satellite, Aryabhatta, which was launched from a cosmodrome in Russia.

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

One of the earliest tests of rockets was conducted at St Mary Magdalene Church, in a fishing village called Thumba, on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerla. Homi Bhabha supported Sarabhai in this first rocket launch. The location was chosen because it lies along the magnetic equator of the Earth. There is a space museum within the Church, and the Church is considered as the Mecca for rocket science in India. Isro still uses the site for launching sounding rockets.

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The bust of Sarabhai in at the Birla Industrial & Technological Museum.

Sarabhai died in a hotel room in Kerla, after witnessing the launch of a Russian rocket, on 30 December 1971. In 1962, Sarabhai had received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Medal. He had been awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1966, and was posthumously awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1972.

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