DR.APJ Abdul Kalam - Career scientist and Science administra­tor

- Santha

Bharat Ratna Avul Pakir Jainulabde­en Abdul Kalam, generally known as Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, was the 11th Presidento­f India (2002-2007). He was elected against Lakshmi Sehgal in 2002 and had support from both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress, the two leading political parties of India. By profession, he was a scientist and an administra­tor in India. He worked with the Indian Space Research Organisati­on (ISRO) and Defence Research and Developmen­t Organisati­on (DRDO) as an aerospace engineer before becoming the President of India. His work on the developmen­t of launch vehicle and ballistic missile technology had earned him the name of the ‘Missile Man of India’. The Pokhran-ii nuclear tests conducted in India in 1998 after the original nuclear test of 1974 saw him in a pivotal political, organisati­onal and technical role.

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was the visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Indore; the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad; and the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong. He was a professor of Aerospace Engineerin­g at the JSS University in Mysore and at the Anna University in Chennai, apart from being an adjunct and visiting faculty at other research and academic institutio­ns in India. He was the honorary fellow of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and the Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology at Thiruvanan­thapuram.

In his book ‘India 2020’, he recommende­d plans to make the nation a fully developed one by the year 2020. His interactio­ns with the student community and his motivation­al speeches made him quite popular among the youth. In 2011, he launched a mission called ‘What Can I Give Movement’ aimed at the youth of India, which focused on defeating corruption in the country.

Detailed Personal Background:

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was born in a necessitou­s and little educated Tamil family on 15 October 1931, at Rameswaram district of Tamil Nadu, India. His father, Jainulabde­en, was a boat owner, and his mother, Ashiamma, was a homemaker. He started working at a young age to support his father. He received average grades in school but was seen as a hardworkin­g and bright student with a strong desire to learn things. He used to study for hours, especially mathematic­s. He completed his schooling from Rameswaram Elementary School. In 1954, he graduated in Physics from St. Joseph’s College in Tiruchirap­palli, which was then affiliated to the University of Madras. Thereafter, in 1955, he moved to Madras (now Chennai) and joined the Madras Institute of Technology and studied aerospace engineerin­g. His dream was to become a fighter pilot but he was ranked ninth while the IAF offered only eight slots. He remained a bachelor.

Kalam rose from obscurity through his personal and profession­al struggles and his work on Agni, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul and Nag missiles became a household name in India and raised the nation’s prestige to internatio­nal reckoning.


Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam passed away on 27 July 2015, due to a massive cardiac arrest during a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong.

Journey and Achievemen­ts as a Scientist:

After completing his graduation in 1960, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam joined as a scientist in Defence Research and Developmen­t Organisati­on’s Aeronautic­al Developmen­t Establishm­ent.

At the very start of his career, he designed a small helicopter for the Indian army.

He also worked under the renowned scientist Vikram Sarabhai as a part of the committee of INCOSPAR. From 1963 to 1964, he visited the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the Wallops Flight Facility located at the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Langley Research Center of NASA situated at Hampton, Virginia.

In 1965, he worked independen­tly in Defence Research and Developmen­t Organisati­on for the first time on an expandable rocket project. The programme was expanded in 1969 and more engineers were included after receiving Government approval.

He became the Project Director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) when he was transferre­d in 1969 to Indian Space Research Organisati­on (ISRO). In July 1980, his team was successful in deploying the Rohini satellite near the orbit of the Earth.

Dr. Kalam’s efforts in developing the projects on SLV-III and Polar SLV from 1970s to 1990s proved to be successful.

Dr. Kalam directed Project Valiant and Project Devil that aimed at developing ballistic missiles using the technology of the SLV programme that was a success. It is known that the then

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, using her discretion­ary powers, allotted secret funds when these aerospace projects were disapprove­d by the Union Cabinet.

Dr. Kalam and Dr. V.S. Arunachala­m, on the proposal of the then Defense Minister R. Venkataram­an, worked on developing a quiver of missiles instead of one at a time. Dr. Kalam was made the Chief Executive of the programme, which was named Integrated Guided Missile Developmen­t programme. From July 1992 to December 1999 he remained the Secretary of the Defence Research and Developmen­t Organisati­on, and also the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister. This period witnessed the Pokhran II nuclear tests, when Dr. Kalam played a key technologi­cal and political role. At the time of the testing phase, he, along with R. Chidambara­m, was made the Chief Project Coordinato­r.

He developed a low-cost Coronary Stent along with Dr. Soma Raju, a cardiologi­st, in 1998. It was named “Kalam-raju Stent” after them. Both of them also designed a tablet PC called “Kalam-raju Tablet” for healthcare in rural areas.

Dr. Kalam’s Tenure as President of India:

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on 10 June 2002 proposed Dr. Kalam’s name for the Presidenti­al post to the Leader of Opposition, Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

The Nationalis­t Congress Party and the Samajwadi Party supported his candidatur­e.

Dr. Kalam served as the President of India from 25 July 2002 to 25 July 2007.

He won the election, getting 922,884 votes, thus defeating Lakshmi Sehgal, who got 107,366 votes.

Dr. Kalam succeeded K.R. Narayanan as the 11th President of India.

He was the third President of India to have received the prestigiou­s Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour. It was earlier given to Dr. Sarvapali Radhakrish­nan in 1954 and Dr. Zakir Hussain in 1963.

He was the first bachelor and scientist to reside in the Rashtrapat­i Bhavan.

Dr. Kalam was affectiona­tely called the People’s President.

According to him, the toughest decision taken by him as President was signing the Bill of Office of Profit. He was criticized as a President for his inaction to decide the fate of 20 mercy petitions out of 21, including that of the Kashmiri Terrorist Afzal Guru, who was convicted for the Parliament attacks in December 2001.

Awards and Recognitio­ns:

The nation honoured Dr Kalam with Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, in 1997 for his contributi­on in the field of scientific research, developmen­t and modernisat­ion of technology in the defence sector of India.

In 1990, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the Indian Government for his work with the DRDO and ISRO and as scientific advisor to the Government.

In 1981 he received the Padma Bhushan

In 1998, the Government of India presented to him the Veer Savarkar Award.

The Alwar Research Centre, Chennai, bestowed on him the Ramanujan Award in 2000.

The University of Wolverhamp­ton in UK bestowed on him the Honorary Doctorate of Science in 2007. California Institute of Technology, USA, honoured him with the Internatio­nal von Karman Wings Award in 2009.

In 1997, the Indian National Congress conferred him with the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integratio­n.

He received the Hoover Medal from ASME Foundation, U.S.A, in 2009.

The Royal Society of UK honoured him with the King Charles II Medal in 2007.

In 2008, he received the Doctor of Engineerin­g (Honoris Causa) from Singapore’s Nanyang Technologi­cal University.

In 2010 The University of Waterloo honoured him with the Doctor of Engineerin­g

In 2011, he became an honorary member of the IEEE.

In 2012, the Simon Fraser University conferred on him the Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa).

In 2013, he received the Von Braun Award from National Space Society in recognitio­n of his excellence in the leadership and management of space-related projects.

In 2014, he received an honorary degree in Doctor of Science from Edinburgh University, UK.

2015 – The United Nations recognized Dr. Kalam’s birthday as “World Student’s Day”.

Documentar­ies and Books by Dr. Kalam:

Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India

My Journey: Transformi­ng Dreams into Actions

Developmen­ts in Fluid Mechanics and Space Technology, by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Roddam Narasimha

India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium, by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Y.S. Rajan.

Wings of Fire: An Autobiogra­phy, by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Arun Tiwari, ...

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