Dr Yash Pal Space ap­pli­ca­tion pi­o­neer and ed­u­ca­tion­ist

Alive - - News -

These two em­i­nent sci­en­tists

will con­tinue to in­spire the fu­ture


by G.V. Joshi

Within 24 hours of each other, In­dia lost two great sons of the soil in suc­ces­sion. The first, Dr Udipi Ram­chan­dra Rao (UR Rao) was a sci­en­tist who guided In­dia to launch its first satel­lite Aryab­hata, fol­lowed by an­other sci­en­tist Dr Yash Pal, a Space Ap­pli­ca­tion pi­o­neer and Ed­u­ca­tion­ist. Dr Yash Pal, who passed away in a hospi­tal in Noida, UP used satel­lites for ed­u­cat­ing com­mon men in In­dia. He was 90.

Dr Yash Pal was born in 1926 in Jhang in the then un­di­vided In­dia (now in Pak­istan). Few read­ers would be aware of the fact that he was a sur­vivor of fa­mous 1935 earth­quake at Quetta, now in Pak­istan. The mas­sive earth­quake had de­mol­ished his fam­ily home and most of Quetta.

He re­mem­bered the dev­as­ta­tion in which not a sin­gle house was left stand­ing. Yash and his brother were dug out from rub­ble of mud bricks just in time be­fore they were lost. Dr Yash Pal ob­tained his Mas­ter’s de­gree in physics from Pan­jab Univer­sity in 1949 and be­gan his re­search ca­reer at the Tata In­sti­tute of Fun­da­men­tal Re­search (TIFR), Mumbai founded in 1945 by Dr Homi Bhaba, who pi­o­neered re­search in Cos­mic Rays in In­dia. Yash­pal was a mem­ber of the ‘cos­mic rays group’.

He went to Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (MIT) in USA and ob­tained PhD de­gree in Physics in 1958 and re­turned to TIFR, where he re­mained un­til 1983.

Af­ter the launch of Sput­nik by Rus­sia in Oc­to­ber 1957, Dr Vikram Sarab­hai, a well-known cos­mic ray physi­cist, recog­nised the po­ten­tial of satel­lites go­ing round the Earth. In­dia’s first Prime Min­is­ter, Pan­dit Jawa­har­lal Nehru, also saw sci­en­tific devel­op­ment as an es­sen­tial part of In­dia’s fu­ture.

Nehru placed space re­search un­der the Depart­ment of Atomic En­ergy (DAE) led by Dr Homi Bhaba, who then es­tab­lished the In­dian Na­tional Com­mit­tee for Space Re­search (INCOSPAR) with Dr Sarab­hai as Chair­man in 1962.

Vi­sion­ar­ies at work

With a vi­sion­ary like Dr Sarab­hai at its helm, INCOSPAR set up the Thumba Equa­to­rial Rocket Launch­ing Sta­tion (TERLS) in Thiru­vanan­tha­pu­ram for up­per at­mo­spheric re­search. INCOSPAR be­came In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ISRO) in 1969.

Dr Sarab­hai gath­ered a team of young sci­en­tists and engi­neers for the mis­sion which in­cluded Rao, Kalam and Gowarikar.

The ISRO un­der Sarab­hai set about build­ing the tech­nol­ogy and in­fra­struc­ture for the Satel­lite Launch Ve­hi­cle, which re­sulted in the devel­op­ment of Po­lar Satel­lite Launch Ve­hi­cle (PSLV), In­dia’s well-es­tab­lished work­horse.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, ISRO be­gan de­vel­op­ing satel­lite build­ing tech­nol­ogy. Sarab­hai asked Rao to de­sign and fab­ri­cate a satel­lite for In­dia. The satel­lite, named Aryab­hata af­ter In­dia’s 5th cen­tury math­e­mati­cian and as­tronomer, de­vel­oped un­der Rao’s guid­ance and launched in 1975 from Ka­pustin Yar us­ing a Soviet Cos­mos-3M launch ve­hi­cle, was In­dia’s first satel­lite.

Dr Sarab­hai passed away in sleep on 30 De­cem­ber 1971 and Dr Satish Dhawan was ap­pointed Chair­man of ISRO in 1972 af­ter a brief post­ing of Dr MGK Menon. In 1972, Dr Dhawan re­quested Dr Yash Pal to es­tab­lish the Space Ap­pli­ca­tions Cen­tre, at Ahmed­abad. Dr Yash Pal was the first Direc­tor. At the same time, he con­tin­ued to be on the fac­ulty of TIFR.

The Space Ap­pli­ca­tions Cen­tre (SAC) is an in­sti­tu­tion to de­velop and demon­strate ap­pli­ca­tions of space tech­nol­ogy in the field of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, re­mote sens­ing, me­te­o­rol­ogy and satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion (Sat Nav). The big­gest con­tri­bu­tion of Dr Yash Pal was his role in ex­e­cu­tion of the SITE pro­ject – Satel­lite In­struc­tional Tele­vi­sion Ex­per­i­ment – dur­ing 1975-76.

Dr Yash Pal’s per­son­al­ity was a rare com­bi­na­tion of many el­e­ments – he was a first-class physi­cist in his early ca­reer, be­came a space sci­en­tist as well as science man­ager in the 1970s, donned the hat of an ed­u­ca­tion­ist as head of the Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion in the 1980s and emerged as an iconic com­mu­ni­ca­tor of science in the 1990s. In each of these roles, he ex­celled.

Pop­u­lar sci­en­tist

Yash Pal is known for reg­u­lar ap­pear­ances on the science pro­gramme

Turn­ing Point tele­cast on Do­or­dar­shan and for ex­plain­ing sci­en­tific con­cepts in lay­man’s lan­guage. For the English daily The Tribune, pub­lished from Chandigarh, he an­swered read­ers’ science-re­lated ques­tions.

He held the posts of Chief Con­sul­tant, Plan­ning Com­mis­sion (1983-84) and Sec­re­tary, Depart­ment of Science and Tech­nol­ogy (1984-1986), af­ter which he was ap­pointed chair­man, Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion (UGC) (1986-91).

Dur­ing his ten­ure as UGC chair­man, he ad­vo­cated the set­ting up of In­ter-Univer­sity Cen­tres funded by the UGC. He was the Chan­cel­lor of Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity (2007-2012).

He was an athe­ist, and op­posed be­lief in deities, astrol­ogy and re­li­gious rit­u­als, dis­miss­ing them as un­sci­en­tific.

The list of awards re­ceived by him is very long. He has been awarded hon­orary de­grees of Doc­tor of Science (DSc) by a num­ber of uni­ver­si­ties. In 1976, the In­dian gov­ern­ment awarded him the Padma Bhushan. It was fol­lowed by Padma Vib­hushan in 2013.

He is sur­vived by his son Rahul Pal, also a sci­en­tist.

Dr Yash Pal pre­sent­ing a re­port on higher ed­u­ca­tion to the then Union HRD min­is­ter Kapil Sibal in New Delhi in 2009.

Prof. UR Rao

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