Vikram Sarabhai

12 Aug 1919
13 Dec 1971
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Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai (12 August 1919 – 30 December 1971) was an Indian scientist and innovator widely regarded as the father of India’s space programme.

Sarabhai received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Medal in 1962. The nation honoured him awarding Padma Bhushan in 1966 and Padma Vibhushan (posthumously) in 1972

Son of Sheth Ambalal Sarabhai, he came from the famous Sarabhai family of India who were major industrialists committed to the Indian independence movement. Vikram Sarabhai married the classical dancer Mrinalini in 1942. The couple had two children. His daughter Mallika gained prominence as an actress and activist, and his son Kartikeya Sarabhai too became an active person in science.During his lifetime, he practiced Jainism and belonged to the Shrimal Jain community of Ahmedabad.

Known as the cradle of space sciences in India, the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) was founded on 11 November 1947 by Vikram Sarabhai. PRL had a modest beginning at his residence, the RETREAT, with research on cosmic rays.

The institute was formally established at the M.G. Science Institute, Ahmedabad, with support from the Karmkshetra Educational Foundation and the Ahmedabad Education Society. Prof. Kalpathi Ramakrishna Ramanathan was the first Director of the institute. The initial focus was research on cosmic rays and the properties of the upper atmosphere. Research areas were expanded to include theoretical physics and radio physics later with grants from the Atomic Energy Commission.

Today PRL is actively involved in research, related to five major fields of science. PRL is also instrumental in the PLANEX planetary science and exploration programme.

Looking at the needs of the country, he persuaded charitable trusts controlled by his family and friends to endow a research institution near his home in Ahmedabad. This led to the creation of the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad on November 11, 1947.

Vikram A. Sarabhai Community Science Centre (VASCSC) established in the 1960s by the eminent space scientist, Vikram A. Sarabhai is working towards popularizing science and mathematics education among students, teachers and the laypublic. Its mandate is to stimulate interest, encourage and expose the principles of science and scientific method and also to improve and find innovative methods of science education

Sarabhai was convinced and envisioned that the resources in space have the potential to address the real problems of man and society. As Director, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) located in Ahmedabad, Sarabhai convened an army of able and brilliant scientists, anthropologists, communicators and social scientists from all corners of the country to spearhead the Indian space programme

Darpana was established as a dance academy by Mrinalini and Vikram Sarabhai in 1949. For nearly two decades it taught classical dance. With Mrinalini as the lead dancer, and ChatunniPanicker as her partner, the Darpana dance company toured across the world. A few years later the great Kuchipudi guru, c R Acharyelu joined the faculty.

The decade following independence in 1947 was witness to a surge of innovative ideas to build a fledgling independent nation into a model democratic state committed to growth with equity in the development of its people. The establishment of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) was the outcome of one such innovative initiative.

Led by Vikram Sarabhai, Shri. Kasturbhai Lalbhai and proactively supported by the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Jivraj Mehta, a group of enlightened individuals set up IIMA. This group ably wove together a coalition of five actors – the governments at the centre and the state, the local industrialists, the Ford Foundation and the Harvard Business School, in a true spirit of public private partnership to establish the Institute

Sarabhai was visiting Thiruvananthapuram to review the SLV (satellite launch vehicle) design, attend the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Thumba railway station being built to service the newly created Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station.

He emphasized the importance of a space programme:

“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.”
Homi Jehangir Bhabha, widely regarded as the father of India’s nuclear science program, supported Sarabhai in setting up the first rocket launching station in India. This center was established at Thumba near Thiruvananthapuram on the coast of the Arabian Sea, primarily because of its proximity to the equator. After a remarkable effort in setting up the infrastructure, personnel, communication links, and launch pads, the inaugural flight was launched on November 21, 1963 with a sodium vapour payload. As a result, the first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was put in orbit in 1975 from a Russian Cosmodrome.

He led the Sarabhai family’s diverse business conglomerate. His interests varied from science to sports to statistics. He set up Operations Research Group (ORG), the first market research organization in the country. Most notable among them are the Nehru Foundation for Development in Ahmedabad, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), which is considered a world class management institute. Also, he helped establish the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), which is doing a commendable job in R&D in physics. Sarabhai set up Ahmedabad Textiles Industrial Research Association (ATIRA), which helped the booming textiles business in Ahmedabad. He also set up the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT). Not stopping with all these, he went ahead and set up the Blind Men Association (BMA) which helps visually-challenged people with the necessary skills and support. Along with his wife Mrinalini Sarabhai, he founded the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts. Other well-known institutions established by him include the Faster Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) in Kalpakkam, Variable Energy Cyclotron Project in Calcutta, Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) in Hyderabad and Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) in Jaduguda, Jharkhand.

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