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Remembering Dr A P J Abdul Kalam: The ‘Missile Man of India’

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By: M Ahmad

Great souls never leave; they are always on the mind of humankind. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was an Indian aerospace scientist and statesman who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. He was born on 15th Oct 1931 and raised in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu and this day is also observed as “World Students Day”.

He studied physics and aerospace engineering and spent the next four decades as a scientist and science administrator, mainly at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and was intimately involved in India’s civilian space programme and military missile development efforts.

He thus came to be known as the Missile Man of India for his work on the development of ballistic missile and launch vehicle technology. He also played a pivotal organisational, technical, and political role in India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by India in 1974.

From 1992 to 1997, Kalam was the defence minister’s scientific adviser, and from 1999 to 2001, he was the government’s principal scientific adviser with the title of cabinet minister. Although the tests raised worldwide alarm, Kalam’s important role in the country’s 1998 nuclear weapons testing cemented India’s status as a nuclear power and elevated him as a national hero.

In 1998, Kalam proposed Technology Vision 2020, a statewide strategy that he described as a road map for converting India from a developing to a developed society in 20 years. Increasing agricultural productivity, prioritising technology as an engine for economic growth, and expanding access to health care and education were among the goals outlined in the plan.

Kalam was elected as the 11th president of India in 2002 with the support of both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the then-opposition Indian National Congress. Widely referred to as the “People’s President”, he returned to his civilian life of education, writing and public service after a single term. He was a recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.

After graduating from the Madras Institute of Technology in 1960, Kalam joined the Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (by Press Information Bureau, Government of India) as a scientist after becoming a member of the Defence Research & Development Service (DRDS). He started his career by designing a small hovercraft, but remained unconvinced by his choice of a job at DRDO. Kalam was also part of the INCOSPAR committee working under Vikram

Sarabhai, the renowned space scientist. In 1969, Kalam was transferred to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) where he was the project director of India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) which successfully deployed the Rohini satellite in near-earth orbit in July 1980; Kalam had first started work on an expandable rocket project independently at DRDO in 1965.[1] In 1969, Kalam received the government’s approval and expanded the programme to include more engineers.

In 1963 to 1964, he visited NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and Wallops Flight Facility. Between the 1970s and 1990s, Kalam made an effort to develop the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and SLV-III projects, both of which proved to be successful.

Kalam was invited by Raja Ramanna to witness the country’s first nuclear test Smiling Buddha as the representative of TBRL, even though he had not participated in its development. In the 1970s, Kalam also directed two projects, Project Devil and Project Valiant, which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme. Kalam played an integral role convincing the Union Cabinet to conceal the true nature of these classified aerospace projects.

His research and educational leadership brought him great laurels and prestige in the 1980s, which 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 the suggestion by the then Defence Minister, R. Venkataraman on a proposal for simultaneous development of a quiver of missiles instead of taking planned missiles one after another.

R Venkatraman was instrumental in getting the cabinet approval for allocating funds for the mission, named Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) and appointed Kalam as the Chief Executive. Kalam played a major part in developing many missiles under the mission including Agni, an intermediate range ballistic missile and Prithvi, the tactical surface-to-surface missile.

Kalam served as the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and Secretary of the Defence Research and Development Organisation from July 1992 to December 1999. The Pokhran-II nuclear tests were conducted during this period in which he played an intensive political and technological role. Kalam served as the Chief Project Coordinator, along with Rajagopala Chidambaram, during the testing phase. Media coverage of Kalam during this period made him the country’s best known nuclear scientist.

Kalam preferred to became a scientist because he wanted to develop the level of aeronautical science and its development in India. His projects & inventions include:-

Nandhi Hovercraft: It was his first invention for his college project. His first invention took to the power and drove great power to the administration. This was his foremost creation or innovation, a dual engine driven hovercraft dubbed Nandhi for his university assignment. It was constructed after plenty of effort, so it flew beyond 1 foot from the surface having two people inside.

Pokhran nuclear test: This one was the unforgettable moment for India when the country finally emerged as a nuclear power. Dr. Kalam was then serving as a chief Scientific adviser to the then prime Minister, and he was the brain behind the multiple nuclear testing in Pokhran which left the whole world shocked. As the CEO of the DRDO from July 1992 to July 1999, he directed the Pokhran II explosions. India is now on the list of nuclear-armed states as a result of his efforts and dedication. It consists of five detonations, the first was fusion bomb and the rest were fission bombs. The speciality of Pokhran 2 was that it was tested in ultimate secrecy. The test was a success as the spy satellites and CIA satellites could be avoided.

Kalam Raju Stent: In 1998, APJ Abdul collaborated alongside Dr Soma Raju to create a reduced cardiovascular stents known as the “Kalam-Raju Stent,” that resulted in a half drop in the price of international implantable devices in India.

Kalam Raju Tablet:  Following the development of the Kalam Raju Stent, he together with cardiology Soma Raju created Kalam Raju Tablet that intended to equip general practice wellness and well-being professionals to react to urgent care emergencies. Thus, this became one of the leading invention that Kalam undertook in healthcare sector.

India’s first indigenous Satellite launch vehicle: At  the time, India barely talked about launching satellite and developing in the field of Space and technology, a man came and changed the future of space organization. APJ Abdul Kalam was appointed as the project director in ISRO and his leadership made it feasible for the country to construct own SLV from ground zero. In July 1980, the SLV III injected the Rohini satellite into near-Earth orbit, making The country an exclusive Space Club member.

Development of Ballistic missiles: Another milestone was created when Dr. Kalam headed the directorial position of  Devila and Valiant. It aimed to produce ballistic missiles based on the successful SLV program’s technology. It was only then when missiles like AGNI-(intermediate range ballistic missile) and PRITHVI (surface to surface missile) along with many powerful missiles were created and that’s why Dr. Kalam earned the title of the missile man of India.

Light combat Aircraft project: Dr. Kalam became the first Indian in a leadership position to fly a fighter plane. After specializing in Aeronautical engineering from Madras institute of technology, he engrossed himself deeply with India’s light combat Aircraft project.

Interest in the development of  low-weight calipers: Although India has indeed been proclaimed polio free by the World Health Organization, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and his colleagues put a lot of effort in 1995 and 1996 to create orthosis callipers which carried about one-tenth of the mass of others on the marketplace. Such flooring response callipers improved motion and standing easier for individuals suffering from neurological difficulties, allowing children to stroll relatively easily and flexibly with hardly any assistance.

Project Devil and Project Valiant:  In the 1970s, APJ Abdul Kalam also oversaw two proposals, that aimed to construct ballistic missiles depends on the positive SLV system’s capabilities. Notwithstanding the Union government’s objections, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used the discretionary authority following Kalam’s direction to allocate covert cash for such aeronautical programs. Kalam was instrumental in persuading the Union Cabinet to keep the real character of such sensitive aviation initiatives hidden.

APJ Abdul Kalam inventions proved useful to us, the mankind in varied ways which cannot even be expressed in words. Awarding him with the greatest honour of the country like  Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Bharat Ratna and many more, he  made not only a difference to what India looked like but too to the outlook of India in the eyes of other significant countries. His words have made the student community grow and bloom with an ideology to do something worth for the nation and hence, have made everything turn for the good. A jewel in the crown, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam contributed significantly for India’s growth and development. From scientific contributions to presidential contributions, he had achieved much for India. Under his leadership, India’s initial national space launch mechanism was developed.

On 27 July 2015, Kalam travelled to Shillong to deliver a lecture on “Creating a Livable Planet Earth” at the Indian Institute of Management Shillong. While climbing a flight of stairs, he experienced some discomfort, but was able to enter the auditorium after a brief rest. At around 6:35 p.m, only five minutes into his lecture, he collapsed. He was rushed to the nearby Bethany Hospital in a critical condition; upon arrival, he lacked a pulse or any other signs of life. Despite being placed in the intensive care unit, Kalam was confirmed dead of a sudden cardiac arrest at 7:45 p.m. His last words, to his aide Srijan Pal Singh, were reportedly: “Funny guy! Are you doing well?

Described by US president Barack Obama as a “scientist and a statesman” in his eulogy, Kalam was a physicist and an aeronautical engineer before he turned to politics, first acting as a science administrator and adviser for nearly four decades before his office run.

In addition to National Awards, he received various international recognitions too Viz: The Royal Society, UK has awarded Dr Kalam with the King Charles-II Medal for Science and Technology in October 2007. He received the Woodrow Wilson Award in 2008. The Royal Academy of Engineering, London conferred on him the International Medal 2008 in June 2009 at London. The Hoover Board of Awards presented him the Hoover Medal 2008 at New York in April 2009. The Aerospace Historical Society in Collaboration with the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories (GALCIT) at the California Institute of Technology awarded him the 2009 International Von Karman Wings Award in September 2009.

“Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.”

“Don’t take rest after your first victory because if you fail in second, more lips are waiting to say that your first victory was just luck.”

“If you fail, never give up because FAIL means “First Attempt In Learning”.

-APJ Abdul Kalam

(The author is a regular contributor to ‘Kashmir Vision’)

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