Downtrodden by failing to pursue his dreams, a young man walks to the edge of a cliff to contemplate his life. And decides to go to Rishikesh to begin life afresh. Sounds like a tale from a movie-script, doesn’t it? However, this is a true incident from Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s life. This happened when he closely missed his selection in the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot. There he achieved the 9th position in their selection tests and interview, and only 8 pilots were required.
However, what ensued is history, and such remarkable history at that. This young man went on to become India’s own Missile man, and then occupied the country’s highest office as one of the most beloved Presidents.
From a very young age, Kalam had to toil to get by in his life. His family, involved in ferrying items to and fro from the mainland and Sri Lanka, gradually lost their income and properties after the opening of the Pamban Bridge to the mainland in 1914. Kalam even sold newspapers to supplement to his family’s income from a very young age.
Through immense hardwork and many sacrifices, Kalam finally graduated from the Madras Institute of Technology in aerospace engineering. He joined the Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as a scientist.
He lived the initial days of his career at Thumba, a coastal village in Kerala. It is home to India’s first rocket launcher – Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launcher. Sent by Vikram Sarabhai to the United States for training of ‘sounding rockets’ at NASA, Dr. Kalam had to start from scratch to work on the same in Thumba. Sounding rockets are instruments carrying rockets designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during their sub orbital flight.
Kalam worked hard, converting cattle shed into a laboratory, transporting rocket parts and payloads with his colleague A Aravamudan. Known today as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, the project involved a pivotal role by Dr. Kalam to turn it into what it is today. One of the earliest and most prestigious achievements of the former President was his successful efforts to develop the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and SLV-III.
In 1969, Kalam got transferred to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). There he was the project director of India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III). And that effectively deployed the Rohini satellite in close earth circle in July 1980.
India required and got the PSLV permit to dispatch its Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites into Sun-synchronous orbits. A service that was, until the approach of the PSLV, commercially accessible just from Russia.
Kalam also directed two projects – Project Devil and Project Valiant, which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme. Despite the disapproval of the Union Cabinet, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi allotted secret funds for these aerospace projects through her discretionary powers under Kalam’s directorship. The goal of the Project Devil was to produce short range surface-to-air missile. A surface-to-air missile is a missile designed to be launched from the ground to destroy other missiles or aircraft. Project Devil utilized 3-ton engines for its operation. Kalam played an integral role convincing the Union Cabinet to conceal the true nature of these classified aerospace projects.
Kalam’s laurels and efforts prompted the government to initiate an advanced missile programme under his directorship. Kalam and Dr V S Arunachalam, metallurgist and scientific adviser to the Defence Minister, worked on a proposal for simultaneous development of a quiver of missiles instead of taking planned missiles one after another.
After being allocated Rs. 388 crores for the mission named Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), Dr. Kalam became the chief executive. This led to him playing a pivotal role in developing many missiles under the Project Agni – an intermediate range ballistic missile and Prithvi, the tactical surface-to-surface missile.
Kalam entered the people’s eyes after the ample media coverage given to the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, which he played an important part in.
His life is as adorned with medals, laurels and degrees, as it is with people’s love and respect. He always motivated children, and the youth of the country to follow their dreams, just as he did. Today on the 1st death anniversary of this genius, we applaud a part of his soul; his work and efforts towards the field of space technology in India. Even today people remember him as the most knowledgeable and approachable President of India. His contribution makes the country proud worldwide.
Our nation will always miss you Dr. Kalam.
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