Google honours Vikram Sarabhai, who took India to space

On the 100th birth anniversary of the father of India's space research programme, the Google doodle paid tribute to Dr. Vikram Sarabhai with a design from Mumbai-based artist Pavan Rajurkar.

Setting the cornerstone of today's Indian Space Research Organisation, Sarabhai was the driving force behind the setting up of the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) in 1962. It was superseded by the ISRO, one of his greatest achievements. With Sarabhai leading the INCOSPAR, the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station for upper atmospheric research in Thiruvananthapuram was set up in 1963. It launched India's first-ever rocket. This was done in tandem with Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha, regarded as the father of the Indian nuclear programme. The station was later renamed the 'Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre'.

The ISRO, through its recently launched Chandrayaan-2, honoured him by naming the lander 'Vikram', which will release the rover 'Pragyan' that will attempt a soft landing on the moon's surface on Sept. 7.


Vikram Sarabhai with a young APJ Abdul Kalam in the early days of the ISRO. Photo credit: isro.gov.in

Sarabhai was the 28-year-old visionary with a doctorate from Cambridge, who founded the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahemdabad in 1947.    

Following the launch of Russia's Sputnik 1 in 1957, it is believed that Sarabhai convinced the then-Government of India about the importance of a space programme for a developing country like India. This is how he justified it:

"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."

He went on to establish a number of well-known institutions -- the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad,  the Community Science Centre, Ahmedabad, the Darpan Academy for Performing Arts, Ahmedabad (which he founded along with his wife), the Electronics Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad, the Uranium Corporation of India Limited, Jaduguda, Bihar, among others.

Another remarkable feat was the launch of the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment, which materialised in conjunction with NASA. It was a launch that he would not get to witness. He died in the December 1971.

Another achievement that resulted from his work was the launch of India's first satellite, 'Aryabhata'. 

Sarabhai was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 1966 and the Padma Vibhushan (posthumously) in 1972.

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