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Vikram Sarabhai was an award-winning physicist, industrialist and innovator. Considered the Father of the Indian space programme, Sarabhai is also credited with establishing Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).
Born to wealthy industrialists in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat on August 12, 1919, Vikram Sarabhai earned his doctorate from Cambridge University. During his time at Cambridge, he studied cosmic rays and published many research papers on it. After returning to India, he founded the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad on November 11, 1947, when he was 28 years old. After PRL, Sarabhai set up the Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad, and guided the establishment of Isro.
What led Vikram Sarabhai to found Isro?
After the launch of Russia’s Sputnik satellite, Sarabhai felt the need for India to have a space agency as well. He convinced the Indian government to start the Indian National Committee for Space Research (Incospar) programme with the following 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."
His vision and commitment led to the establishment of Inscopar during the Nehru government. It was later re-christened the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).
Major contributions of Vikram Sarabhai in the field on space and science
Vikram Sarabhai helped Homi Bhabha set up India's first rocket-launching station, which was built in St Mary Magdalene Church near Thiruvanathapuram. The first flight was a sodium vapour payload and was launched on 21 November 1963.
Sarabhai started a project that would lead to the building of India’s first artificial satellite orbiting the earth. Launched in July 1976, the Aryabhata was launched four years after the death of Sarabhai on the Kapustin Yar, a Russian rocket.
He set up India's first market research organisation that aimed to apply modern analytical research to meet the needs of clients. The organisation was called Operations Research Group.
Setting up of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A)
Vikram Sarabhai spearheaded the establishment of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A).
Dance Academy
Sarabhai married world-renowned classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai in 1942. The classical dancer and innovator-scientists together established the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad.
Most important institutions founded by Vikram Sarabhai
  • Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad
  • Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad
  • Community Science Centre, Ahmedabad
  • Darpan Academy for Performing Arts, Ahmedabad (along with his wife)
  • Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram
  • Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad (formed by merging six institutions established by Sarabhai)
  • Faster Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR), Kalpakkam
  • Variable Energy Cyclotron Project, Calcutta
  • Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), Hyderabad
  • Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), Jaduguda, Bihar
Vikram Sarabhai's death
Sarabhai passed away on December 30, 1971, at the age of 52. He died in a hotel room in Kerala after witnessing the launch of a Russian rocket and laying the foundation stone of the Thumba railway station earlier the same day.
Vikram Sarabhai's legacy
— A crater on the moon was named in his honour in 1973 by the International Astronomical Union in Sydney, Australia.
— On July 22, 2019, Isro launched the first lander-rover module from India to travel and land on the moon and study it. The lander carrying the rover was named Vikram. The Vikram lander is scheduled to touch down on the lunar surface on September 7 of 2019.
— The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, (VSSC), which is Isro's lead facility for launch vehicle development located in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), is named in his memory.
— Indian Postal department released a commemorative postal stamp on his first death anniversary (30 December 1972)
— Space Science Day is observed in India every year on 12 August
— He was a recipient of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize