Popularly known as the 'Missile Man of India' Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was a man with rare qualities. As a scientist he was instrumental in shaping India's civilian space program. He played a pivotal role in the development of ballistic missile and launch vehicle technology. He was a recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour. He hold the office as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. The iconic personality and author of Wings of Fire and India 2020 he passed away after a cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management Shillong on 27 July 2015, aged 83.
APJ Abdul Kalam was born on 15th October 1931 in Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu to father Jainulabdeen mother Ashiamma. Due to his poverty, he had to start working from an early age to supplement his family’s income. Although he was brought up in a multi-religious environment, he did follow a religious routine. When he was a child, Kalam had a discipline of starting the day at 4 o’clock in the morning and following the footsteps of his brother to do homework before going to school to attend mathematics classes.
In May 2011, Kalam launched his mission for the youth of the nation called the ‘What Can I Give Movement’ with a central theme to defeat corruption. He also has interests in writing Tamil poetry and in playing the veenai. He was also nominated for the MTV Youth Icon of the Year award in the year 2003 and in 2006. In the 2011 Hindi film ‘I Am Kalam’, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is portrayed as an extremely positive influence to a poor but bright Rajasthani boy named Chhotu, who renames himself as Kalam in honor of his idol.
Professional Life of Kalam
After his graduation from Madras Institute of Technology in the year 1960, Kalam joined the Aeronautical Development Establishment of Defense Research and Development Organization as the chief scientist. He started his career by designing a small helicopter for the Indian Army, but remained unconvinced with the choice of his job. He was also a part of the INCOSPAR Committee working under Vikram Sarabhai. In the year 1969, Kalam was transferred to the Indian Space Research Organization where he was the project director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle SLV-III which successfully deployed the Rohini satellite in near earth orbit on July 1980. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam’s biggest achievement in life is considered to be joining the ISRO where he is said to have found himself while working on the SLV project. Kalam first started work on an expandable rocket project independently at DRDO in the year 1965. In the year 1969, he received the government’s approval and expanded the program to include more engineers. In the year 1963-64, Kalam visited NASA’s Langley Research Centre in Poquoson, Virginia and Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland as well as the Wallops Flight Facility situated in the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
During the 1970s to 1990s, Kalam made an effort to develop the Polar SLV and SLV-III project which proved to be a success. In the year 1974, Kalam was shifted to the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL), which is a subsidiary of the DRDO.
Kalam was also invited by Raja Ramanna to witness the country’s first nuclear test, Smiling Buddha was a representative of the TBRL, even though he had not participated in developing the test or have taken part in the test site preparations or weapon designing. In the 1970s, a landmark was passed when the ISRO first launched into space the locally built Rohini-1 using the SLV rocket. Kalam also directed the Project Devil and Project Valiant which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of Kalam’s successful SLV programme. Despite the Union cabinet’s disapproval, Indira Gandhi provided secret funds for these aerospace projects through her discretionary powers under Kalam’s directorship.
Kalam also played a pivotal role in convincing the Union Cabinet to conceal the true nature of these classified aerospace projects. Kalam’s research leadership and educational service brought him great recognitions during the 1980s which prompted the Indian Government to initiate an advanced missile program under his directorship. Being the Chief Executive of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (I.G.M.P.D), he played a major role in developing many missiles in India including the Agni and the Prithvi. These projects, however, have been criticized for mismanagement and cost and time overruns. Kalam was the chief scientific advisor to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of Defence Research and Development Organization from July 1992 to December 1999. The Pokhran-II nuclear tests were conducted during this period where he plated an extensive political and technological role. Kalam served as the Chief Project Coordination, along with R, Chidambaram during the testing phase.
In the year 1998, along with cardiologist Dr. Soma Raju, Kalam developed a low cost coronary stent. It was named ‘Kalam-Raju Stent’ honoring their effort. In the year 2012, the duo designed a rugged tablet PC for healthcare in rural areas called as ‘Kalam-Raju Tablet’.
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam also served as the 11th President of India succeeding K.R Narayanan. He won the e2002 presidential election and served from 25th July 2002 to 24th July 2007. Kalam was the first scientist and bachelor to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhawan. During his tenure he was affectionately known as the ‘People’s President’. On his own words, it was the signing of the Office of Profit Bill which was the toughest decision he took during his tenure. He is succeeded by Pratibha Singh Patil.
Kalam was a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmadabad and Indian Institute of Management, Indore along with several other academic and research institutions across India. He was also the Chancellor of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology in Thiruvananthapuram, a professor of Aerospace Engineering in Anna University (Chennai), JSS University (Mysore). He was also involved in philanthropic work.
Kalam is also a prolific writer and has written a number of inspiring books like ‘Wings of Fire’, an autobiography; ‘Scientist to President’, ‘Ignited Minds’, ‘India 2020’, ‘Children Ask Kalam’ and ‘Indomitable Spirit’ among others.
Criticism and Controversies:
The criticism which surrounds Kalam regarding hi role as a nuclear scientist is the lack of reliable and factual reporting of the yield of Pokhran-II tests. According to the director of the site test, K. Santhanam, the thermonuclear bomb was a ‘fizzle’ test and he publicly criticized Kalam for issuing the wrong report. Kalam was criticized by many of his peers who claimed that Kalam had no authority over nuclear science. Homi Sethna, a chemical engineer criticized Kalam claiming that Kalam had no background in publishing articles in nuclear science, even in nuclear physics. He also maintained that Kalam received his doctorate in aerospace engineering which is a completely different discipline from nuclear engineering.
Kalam was also questioned by the media regarding his claims on the classified missile programme. However, in his own biography, Kalam has given credit to the people involved in it. Kalam was also criticized by civil groups over his stand on the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant, where he supported setting up of the nuclear power plant and never spoke with the local people.
Future India: 2020:
In his book ‘India 2020’, Kalam strongly advocates an action plan to develop India into a knowledge superpower and a developed nation by the year 2020; he maintains that his work on India’s nuclear weapons program would be a way to assert India’s place as a future superpower. Kalam also had active interest in other development in the field of science and technology; he has proposed a research program for developing bio-implants.
Awards and Recognitions of Kalam:
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam is the first President of India to be honored with a Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor in the year 1997. His 79th birthday was recognized as World Student’s Day by the United Nations. He has also received honorary doctorates from 40 universities. The Indian Government has honored him with the Padma Bhushan in the year 1981 and the Padma Vibhusan in 1990 for his work with ISRO, DRDO and his role as a scientific advisor to the Government.
(FAN OF Dr. AVUL PAKIR JAINULABDEEN ABDUL KALAM)
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