Vikram Sarabhai – father of India’s space programme

Vikram Sarabhai’s name will remain inseparable from India’s Space programme. It was Sarabhai who put India on the international map in the field of space research. But then he made equally pioneering contributions in other fields. He worked in the fields of textiles, pharmaceuticals, nuclear power, electronics and many other incessantly till last. Sarabhai was a creative scientist, a successful and forward looking industrialist, an innovator of the highest order, a great institution builder, a pioneering management educator and more. He was a dreamer with a seemingly unmatched capacity of hard work. He was a visionary, who could not only see opportunities but created some where none existed.

Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai was born on August 12,1919 to a wealthy family at Ahmedabad. His parents were Ambalal Sarabhai and Saraladevi Sarabhai.Sarabhai had his early education in the family school started by his mother. After completing his intermediate science examination from Gujarat College. He went to Cambridge(UK) in 1937 where he obtained his Tripos in Natural Sciences in 1940. At the outbreak of the second World War he returned to India and joined the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore where he took up research in cosmic rays under the supervision of C.V Raman. He published his first research paper entitled “Time Distribution of Cosmic Rays” in the proceedings of Indian Academy of Sciences. Sarabhai’s work on cosmic rays during the period 1940-45 included the study of the time variations of cosmic rays with Geiger-Muller counters at Bangalore and at the high level station in the Kashmir. After the war he returned to Cambridge to work for his Ph.D in cosmic ray physics. In 1947, he was awarded Ph.D by the Cambridge University for his thesis “Cosmic Ray investigation in Tropical Latitudes”. 

Sarabhai was a great institution builder. He established or helped to establish a large number of institutions in diverse fields. Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association(ATIRA) was first institution that Sarabhai helped to build. Formation of ATIRA was an important step towards modernizing textile industry in India.

After the death of Homi.J.Bhabha in January 1966, Sarabhai was asked to assume the responsibilities of the office of the chairman, Atomic Energy Commission. At that time he was deeply involved in three major areas. Sarabhai had realized the enormous potentialities inherent in space science and technology for a wide range of social and economical development activities – communication, meteorology/weather forecasting, and exploration for natural resources, to name only a few. The Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad established by Sarabhai pioneered research in space sciences and subsequently in space technology. Sarabhai also spearheaded the country’s rocket technology. He played a pioneering role in the development of satellite TV broadcasting in India. It is said that by his mere smile he was able to transmit a great deal of inspiration to all those how worked for him.

Sarabhai died on 30 December 1971 at Kovalam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. In 1974, the International Astronomical Union at Sydney decided that a Moon Crater BESSEL in the sea of Serenity will be known as the Sarabhai Crater.  

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