Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai (August 12, 1919 December 31, 1971) was an Indian physicist. He is considered to be the Father of the Indian space program.
Vikram Sarabhai was born on 12 August 1919 in the city of Ahmedabad , Gujarat State in western India. The Sarabhai family was an important and rich Jain business family. His father Ambalal Sarabhai was an affluent industrialist and owned many mills in Gujarat. Vikram Sarabhai was one of the eight children of Ambalal and Sarla Devi.
To educate her eight children, Sarla Devi established a private school on the lines of the Montessori method, propounded by Maria Montessori, which was gaining fame at that time. As the Sarabhai family was involved in the Indian freedom struggle, many leaders of the freedom struggle like Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru used to frequent the Sarabhai house. This is said to have greatly influenced the young Vikram Sarabhai and played an important role in the growth of his personality.
Sarabhai matriculated from the Gujarat College in Ahmedabad after passing the Intermediate Science examination. After that he moved to England and joined the St. John’s College, University of Cambridge. He received the Tripos in Natural Sciences from Cambridge in 1940. With the escalation of the Second World War, Sarabhai returned to India and joined the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and began research in cosmic rays under the guidance of Sir C. V. Raman, a Nobel Prize winner. He returned to Cambridge after the war in 1945 and was awarded a PhD degree in 1947 for his thesis titled Cosmic Ray investigation in Tropical Latitudes.
In September, 1942, Vikram Sarabhai married Mrinalini Sarabhai, a celebrated classical dancer of India. The wedding was held in Chennai without anyone from Vikram’s side of the family attending the wedding ceremony because of the ongoing Quit India movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. Vikram and Mrinalini had two children – Kartikeya and Mallika.
Vikram Sarabhai was one of the greatest scientists of India. He is considered as the Father of the Indian space program. Apart from being a scientist, he was a rare combination of an innovator, industrialist and visionary.
He did research on the time variations of cosmic rays and concluded that meteorological effects could not entirely affect the observed daily variations of cosmic rays
The year 1957-1958 was designated as International Geo-physical year (IGY).The Indian program for the IGY had been one of the most significant ventures of Sarabhai.
The establishment of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was one of his greatest achievements. He successfully convinced the government of the importance of a space programme for a developing country like India after the Russian Sputnik launch. Dr. Sarabhai emphasized the importance of a space program in his quote:
“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.”
Vikram Sarabhai was instrumental in establishing the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL). Homi Jehangir Bhabha, widely regarded as the father of India’s nuclear science program, supported Dr. 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. As a result of Dr.Sarabhai’s dialogue with NASA in 1966, the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) was launched during July 1975 – July 1976 (when Dr.Sarabhai was no more).
The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment or SITE was an experimental satellite-The project made available informational television programmes to rural India. The main objectives of the experiment were to educate the poor people of India on various issues via satellite broadcasting, and also to help India gain technical experience in the field of satellite communications.
Dr.Sarabhai started a project for the fabrication and launch of an Indian satellite. As a result, the first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was put in orbit in 1975 from a Russian Cosmodrome.
An ISRO?technician next to a working model of the solid-state television set, designed with NASA assistance, for use in SITE. Image courtesy NASA.
1. Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad
2. Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad
3. Community Science Centre, Ahmedabad
4. Darpan Academy for Performing Arts, Ahmedabad (along with his wife)
5. Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuramm
6. Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad (This institution came into existence after merging six institutions/centres established by Sarabhai)
7. Faster Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR), Kalpakkam
8. Varaiable Energy Cyclotron Project, Calcutta
9. Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), Hyderabad
10. Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), Jaduguda, Bihar