10 Things to know about Vikram Sarabhai – Father of India’s Space Programme
Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai (12 August 1919 – 30 December 1971) is well known as a founder of ISRO, but little is know of the fact that he was involved in some major institution building efforts in India. Most notable of them is Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
The establishment of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was one of his greatest achievements. He convinced the Indian government of the importance of a space programme for a developing country like India after the Russian Sputnik launch. Sarabhai emphasized the importance of a space program as follows:
“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.”
Sarabhai setup the first rocket launching station in India. This center 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, the first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was put in orbit in 1975 from a Russian Cosmodrome.
He also set up Operations Research Group (ORG), the first market research organization in the country.
In 1973, the International Astronomical Union decided that a lunar crater, Bessel A, in the Sea of Serenity will be known as the Sarabhai crater.
As a result of Dr. Sarabhai’s dialogue with NASA in 1966, the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) was launched during 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.
Dr. Sarabhai was very interested in science education and founded a Community Science Centre at Ahmedabad in 1966. Today, the Centre is called the Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre.
After his matriculation, Vikram Sarabhai proceeded to Cambridge for his college education and took the tripos in Natural Sciences from St. John’s college in 1940. When World War II began, he returned home and joined as a research scholar under Sir C. V. Raman at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore His interest in solar physics and cosmic ray led him to set up many observation stations around the country. He built the necessary equipment with which he took measurements at Bangalore, Poona and the Himalayas. He returned to Cambridge in 1945 and completed his Ph.D in 1947.
Vikram Sarabhai married the classical dancer Mrinalini in 1942. The couple had two children. His daughter Mallika gained prominence as an actress and activist, and his son Kartikeya Sarabhai too became an active person in science.