Glory of Bharath  »  Scientists of Bharath - Part Thirty One
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam born on 15th October 1931 at Rameswaram, in Tamil Nadu, specialized in Aero Engineering from Madras Institute of Technology. Before his term as India's president, he worked as an aeronautical engineer with DRDO and ISRO. He is popularly known as the Missile Man of India for his work on development of ballistic missile and space rocket technology. In India he is highly respected as a scientist and as an engineer. Kalam played a pivotal organizational, technical and political role in India's Pokhran-II nuclear test in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by India in 1974.He is a professor at Anna University (Chennai) and adjunct/visiting faculty at many other academic and research institutions across India. With the death of R. Venkataraman on January 27, 2009, Kalam became the only surviving former President of India.

Personal life
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 in a Tamil Muslim family to Jainulabdeen, a boat owner and Ashiamma, a housewife, at Rameswaram, located in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He came from a poor background and started working at an early age to supplement his family's income. After completing school, Kalam distributed newspapers in order to financially contribute to his father's income. In his school years, he had average grades, but was described as a bright and hardworking student who had a strong desire to learn and spend hours on his studies, especially mathematics.

After completing his school education at the Rameshwaram Elementary School, Kalam went on to attend Saint Joseph's College, Tiruchirappalli, then affiliated with the University of Madras, from where he graduated in physics in 1954. Towards the end of the course, he was not enthusiastic about the subject and would later regret the four years he studied it. He then moved to Madras in 1955 to study aerospace engineering.

Career as scientist

After graduating from Madras Institute of Technology (MIT - Chennai) in 1960, Kalam joined Aeronautical Development Establishment of Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) as a scientist. Kalam started his career by designing a small helicopter for the Indian Army, but remained unconvinced with the choice of his 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 Organization (ISRO) 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 in July 1980. Joining ISRO was one of Kalam's biggest achievements in life and he is said to have found himself when he started to work on the SLV project. Kalam first started work on an expandable rocket project independently at DRDO in 1965. In 1969, Kalam received the government's approval and expanded the program to include more engineers.

In 1963-64, he visited Nasa's Langley Research Center in Hampton Virginia, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and Wallops Flight Facility situated at Eastern Shore of Virginia. During the period between the 1970s and 1990s, Kalam made an effort to develop the Polar SLV and SLV-III projects, both of which proved to be success.

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 the development, test site preparation and weapon designing. In the 1970s, a landmark was achieved by ISRO when the locally built Rohini-1 was launched into space, using the SLV rocket. In the 1970s, Kalam also directed two projects, namely, Project Devil and Project Valiant, which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme. His research and educational leadership brought him great laurels and prestige in 1980s, which prompted the government to initiate an advanced missile program under his directorship. Kalam and Dr. V. S. Arunachalam, metallurgist and scientific adviser to the Defense Minister, worked on the suggestion by the then Defense Minister, R. Venkataraman on a proposal for simultaneous development of a quiver of missiles instead of taking planned missiles one by one.
R Venkatraman was instrumental in getting the cabinet approval for allocating 388 crore rupees for the mission, named Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (I.G.M.D.P) 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. He was the Chief Scientific Adviser 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 played an intensive political and technological role. Kalam served as the Chief Project Coordinator, along with R. Chidambaram during the testing phase.

In 1998, along with cardiologist Dr.Soma Raju, Kalam developed a low cost Coronary stent. It was named as "Kalam-Raju Stent" honouring them. In 2012, the duo, designed a rugged tablet PC for health care in rural areas, which was named as "Kalam-Raju Tablet".

He is one of those scientists who aim at putting technology created by him to multiple uses. He used the light weight carbon-compound material designed for Agni to make calipers for the polio affected. This carbon composite material reduced the weight of the calipers to 400 grams (from its original weight of 4kgs.) Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS, Hyderabad) was the birthplace for the defence technology spin offs from Kalam's labs via the DRDL (Defence Research and Development Laboratory), DMRL (Defence Metallurgical Research Lab) and the RCI (Research Centre Imarat).

Kalam served as the 11th President of India, succeeding K. R. Narayanan. He won the 2002 presidential election with an electoral vote of 922,884, surpassing 107,366 votes won by Lakshmi Sehgal. He served from 25 July 2002 to 25 July 2007.Kalam was the third President of India to have been honoured with a Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour, before becoming the President. Dr. Sarvapali Radhakrishnan (1954) and Dr. Zakir Hussain (1963) were the earlier recipients of Bharat Ratna who later became the President of India. He was also the first scientist and the first bachelor to occupy Rashtrapati Bhawan.

On Wednesday April 29, 2009, he became the first Asian to be bestowed the Hoover Medal, America's top engineering prize, for his outstanding contribution to public service. Kalam has received honorary doctorates from as many as thirty universities, including the Carnegie Mellon University and the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. The Government of India has honoured him with the nation's highest civilian honours: the Padma Bhushan in 1981; Padma Vibhushan in 1990; and the Bharat Ratna in 1997 for his work with ISRO and DRDO and his role as a scientific advisor to the Indian government.

He is currently a visiting professor at Indian Institute of Management Shillong, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and Indian Institute of Management Indore, honorary fellow of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram, a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University (Chennai), JSS University (Mysore) and an adjunct/visiting faculty at many other academic and research institutions across India.

He is a scholar of Thirukkural; in most of his speeches, he quotes at least one kural. Kalam has written several inspirational books, most notably his autobiography Wings of Fire, aimed at motivating Indian youth. Another of his books, Guiding Souls: Dialogues on the Purpose of Life reveals his spiritual side. He has written poems in Tamil as well. It has been reported that there is considerable demand in South Korea for translated versions of books authored by him. Kalam has also patronized grassroots innovations. He is closely associated with the Honey Bee Network and The National innovation Foundation. The NIF is a body of Government of India and operates from Ahmadabad, Gujarat.

Political views
APJ Abdul Kalam views on certain issues have been espoused by him in his book India 2020 where he strongly advocates an action plan to develop India into a knowledge superpower and into a developed nation by the year 2020. Kalam is credited with the view that India ought to take a more assertive stance in international relations; he regards his work on India's nuclear weapons program as a way to assert India's place as a future superpower.

Kalam continues to take an active interest in other developments in the field of science and technology as well. He has proposed a research programme for developing bio-implants. He is a supporter of Open source software over proprietary solutions and believes that the use of open source software on a large scale will bring more people the benefits of information technology.

Kalam's belief in the power of science to resolve society's problems and his views of these problems as a result of inefficient distribution of resources is modernistic. He also sees science and technology as ideology-free areas and emphasizes the cultivation of scientific temper and entrepreneurial drive. In this, he finds a lot of support among India's new business leaders like the founders of Infosys and Wipro, (leading Indian IT corporations) who began their careers as technology professionals much in the same way Kalam did.

- October 11
- December 09

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