The ‘Missile Man of India’ Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was an eminent scientist, researcher, academician and politician. Serving as the 11th President of India, Dr Kalam was a harbinger of the Indian civilian space programme as well as a frontrunner of the country’s defence and military missile development endeavours.
Born on October 15, 1931, as Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu, Dr Kalam’s childhood was swathed with hardships and uphill battles. Hailing from a poor background, he fought tooth and nail to complete his education and support his joint family from a young age.
To alleviate the financial crunch his family had been compelled to face, Dr Kalam began to toil as a young boy, selling newspapers in his village at the mere age of 10. This did not affect his education, however, as he would begin his day at dawn just to attend his maths tuition and sleep late at night to continue studying despite there being no electricity in his village.
A voracious learner and intellectual, he did not let his circumstances deter him and went on to complete his senior secondary education and enrolled in college where he graduated with a degree in physics. Thereafter, Dr Kalam relocated to Madras in 1955 to study aerospace engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology.
Upon graduating from the Madras Institute of Technology, Dr Kalam in 1958 joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). In 1969 he moved to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), where he led the development of the SLV-III, the first satellite launch vehicle to be both designed and produced in India.
The indigenous SLV-III successfully injected the Rohini satellite into near-earth orbit in July 1980 and made India an exclusive member of the Space Club. Dr Kalam was also involved in the development of ISRO’s flagship launch vehicle PSLV.
After spending close to two decades at ISRO, Dr Kalam rejoined DRDO in 1982, scheming the programme that yielded several prosperous missiles, which helped earn him the nickname “Missile Man.” Among those successes were AGNI and PRITHVI.
Serving as the principal scientific advisor to the government of India from 1992 to 2001, he also played a key role in the country’s 1998 nuclear weapons trials that cemented India as a nuclear power. These contributions ascertained Kalam as a widely beloved personality and a national hero.
Dr Kalam was sworn in as President in 2002 after being nominated by both the ruling party and the opposition for candidature. After completing his term in 2007, he returned to civilian life but his love for science and technology remained. He devoted his time to shaping young minds as a lecturer at several universities until his demise.
Dr APJ Abul Kalam was a ‘People’ President,’ an extraordinary visionary and one of the vital figures who led India on a path to development and scientific excellence. His contributions to the country continue to inspire and enlighten future generations.
Here are 10 facts you might not know about Dr APJ Abdul Kalam:
- Dr Kalam received honorary doctorates from 48 universities and institutions from India and abroad during his lifetime.
- Dr Kalam has been bestowed with some of the highest civilian honours in the country. Kalam was awarded the coveted civilian awards — Padma Bhushan in 1981, Padma Vibhushan in 1990 and the highest civilian award in India — Bharat Ratna in 1997.
- APJ Abdul Kalam wrote his autobiography in the 90s, which was translated into 13 languages. It was first published in English, but the success of the book was immense and so was the demand of people to know about his life that the book was then translated into 13 languages including French and Chinese.
- Dr Kalam missed an opportunity to become a fighter pilot for the Indian Air force by a hair’s breadth. He was ranked 9th in the IAF entrance exam when there were only 8 openings.
- On the occasion of his birthday, the United Nations (UN) in 2015 had declared October 15 as World Student’s Day.
- Dr Kalam was a talented poet and penned a plethora of poetry in Tamil. He was very fond of playing a musical instrument known as the Veena.
- Dr Kalam’s visit to Switzerland on 26th May is commemorated as Science Day in the country. This declaration was made in his honour by the Swiss Government after his demise in 2015.
- Dr Kalam authored many inspiring books over the course of his life. His works include Wings of Fire, India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium, Children Ask Kalam, Ignited Minds, among others.
- In 2013, Dr Kalam was awarded the Von Braun Award by the National Space Society for his unprecedented contributions towards the field of science and technological development in India.
- On July 27, 2015, he collapsed while delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management in Shillong and was pronounced dead from cardiac arrest soon afterwards.