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Vikram Sarabhai: The Father of India's Space Programme

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Vikram Sarabhai

Vikram Sarabhai

Who Was Vikram Sarabhai?

Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai was an Indian scientist and innovator who is considered to be the father of India's space program. He was born in India and received his early education there before going on to study in the United Kingdom. Sarabhai was a pioneering researcher in the field of cosmic rays, and his work laid the foundation for many of the discoveries that were made in this field in the 20th century. He was also instrumental in establishing several scientific institutions in India, including the Physical Research Laboratory, the Indian Space Research Organisation, and the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.

vikram-sarabhai-the-father-of-indias-space-programme

Early Life

Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai was born on August 12, 1919 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India to a wealthy family. His father, Ambalal Sarabhai, was a successful industrialist and his mother, Sarla Devi, was a social reformer. Sarabhai received his early education at the Gujarat College in Ahmedabad, and later went on to study at St. John's College at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. While at Cambridge, he received a degree in natural sciences and was also active in sports and other extracurricular activities.

After returning to India, Sarabhai continued his education at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, where he received his PhD in physical chemistry.

Sarabhai's Contributions

Sarabhai was deeply committed to using science and technology for the benefit of humanity, and he saw the potential for India to use its own space program as a tool for national development. He was instrumental in establishing the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1969 and served as its chairman until his untimely death in 1971. Under his leadership, the ISRO developed a number of successful satellites and launched them using indigenously developed launch vehicles.

One of Sarabhai's major contributions to the field of space research was his work on satellite communication. He recognized the potential for satellite communication to revolutionize the field of telecommunications, and he played a key role in the development of the Indian satellite INSAT-1B, which was launched in 1982. The success of this satellite paved the way for the development of a number of other satellites, including INSAT-2E, which was launched in 1999 and is still in operation today.

In addition to his work on satellite communication, Sarabhai was also interested in the study of cosmic rays and the upper atmosphere. He established the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur, and he was a key figure in the establishment of the Ahmedabad Textile Industry's Research Association (ATIRA). He was also involved in the establishment of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram, which is now a major centre for space research in India.

Sarabhai was a member of several national and international committees and was actively involved in the development of science and technology in India. He received numerous awards and honors during his lifetime, including the Padma Bhushan in 1966 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1972, which are among the highest civilian honors in the country. He was also a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Indian National Science Academy, and he was a member of the International Academy of Astronautics.

Despite his many achievements, Sarabhai is perhaps best known for his role in establishing the ISRO and for his vision for India's space program. He believed that space technology could be used for a wide range of applications, including weather forecasting, natural resource management, and disaster management, and he worked tirelessly to make these applications a reality. Today, the ISRO is a major player in the global space industry and has launched a number of successful satellites and spacecraft, including the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter and the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)

Dr Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai was a key figure in the establishment and early development of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which was founded in 1969. The organization was established with the goal of developing and promoting space science and technology for the benefit of the country. It has since become a major player in the global space industry, launching numerous successful satellite missions and carrying out a variety of scientific and technological research projects.

Sarabhai recognized the potential of space technology for addressing a variety of societal challenges, and he played a leading role in the establishment of ISRO in 1969. He served as the chairman of ISRO's predecessor organization, the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR), from 1962 to 1971, and he was instrumental in setting the direction and priorities of the organization. Sarabhai was also involved in the establishment of a number of institutions and research centres related to space science and technology in India, including the Physical Research Laboratory and the Ahmedabad Textile Industry's Research Association.

ISRO is headquartered in the city of Bengaluru, Karnataka. ISRO conducts a wide range of activities, including the development and launch of satellites for earth observation, communication, meteorology, and navigation; the development of launch vehicles and related technologies; and the implementation of space-based applications for the benefit of society.

ISRO has had many notable achievements, including the successful launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission in 2014 and the Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon in 2019.

A Bollywood movie was made about the Mars Mission and it is quite an eye-opener in terms of how Indian ingenuity was used to achieve success at such a low-cost using novel methods that had not previously been considered for launch missions. The movie is called Mission Mangal, and for Hindi speakers there is a link to the book on Amazon below:

Sarabhai's Main Publications

Sarabhai published many papers on a wide range of topics related to physics, astronomy, and space science. Some of his notable publications include:

  1. "Cosmic Ray Investigations in Tropical Latitudes" (1947) – This paper, which was published in the Proceedings of the Physical Society, presents the results of Sarabhai's research on cosmic rays in tropical latitudes.
  2. "The Upper Atmosphere" (1954) – This paper, which was published in the journal Nature, discusses the importance of studying the upper atmosphere and the various methods that can be used to do so.
  3. "The State of Upper Atmosphere Studies in India" (1957) – This paper, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences, provides an overview of the state of upper atmosphere studies in India and discusses the potential applications of this research.
  4. "The Role of Artificial Satellites in the Exploration of Cosmic Space" (1958) – This paper, which was published in the journal Nature, discusses the potential of using artificial satellites to explore cosmic space.
  5. "The Development of Indian Astronomy" (1961) – This paper, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences, discusses the history and development of Indian astronomy and the role it has played in the advancement of science and technology in the country.

Sarabhai's contributions to the field of space research and to the development of science and technology in India are immeasurable, and his work continues to inspire and influence researchers around the world.

ISRO Launch in India

ISRO Launch in India

Sarabhai's Personal Life

Sarabhai was married to Mrinalini Sarabhai, who was a classical dancer and choreographer. The couple had two children, a son named Kartikeya and a daughter named Mallika. Sarabhai was deeply committed to using science and technology for the benefit of humanity, and he saw the potential for India to use its own space program as a tool for national development.

Sarabhai's Death

Dr. Vikram Sarabhai died on December 30, 1971, at the age of 52. The exact cause of his death is not clear, but it is believed that he may have suffered a heart attack. Sarabhai was in Kovalam, Thiruvananthapuram, at the time of his death and was cremated with full state honours in Ahmedabad. His death was a great loss to the scientific community in India and around the world.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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