Vikram Sarabhai

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Vikram Sarabhai
Vikram Sarabhai.jpg
Vikram Sarabhai
Born (1919-08-12)12 August 1919[1][2]
Ahmedabad, Bombay Presidency, British India
Died 30 December 1971(1971-12-30) (aged 52)
Halcyon Castle, Kovalam in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
Residence India
Nationality Indian
Fields Physics
Institutions Indian Space Research Organisation
Physical Research Laboratory
Alma mater Gujarat College, University of Cambridge
Doctoral advisor Sir C. V. Raman
Known for Indian space program
Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad
Notable awards Padma Bhushan (1966)
Padma Vibhushan (posthumously) (1972)
Spouse Mrinalini Sarabhai

Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai (12 August 1919 – 30 December 1971) was one of the greatest scientists of India. He is widely regarded as the father of the Indian space programme. In fact he was a rare combination of a scientist, an innovator, industrialist and a visionary. He is considered the father of India's space programme.

Vikram Sarabhai was born on August 12, 1919 at Ahmedabad in an affluent family of progressive industrialists. He was one of the eight children of Ambalal and Sarla Devi. He had his early education in a private school, ‘Retreat’, run by his parents on Montessori lines. Some of the great personalities like Gurudev Rabindranath, J Krishna Murthi, Motilal Nehru, VS Shrinivasa Shastri, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Maulana Azad, CF Andrews, C V Raman et al. used to stay with the Sarabhai family when they visited Ahmedabad. Mahatma Gandhi also once stayed at their house while recovering from an illness. Visits by such great personalities greatly influenced Vikram Sarabhai.

After his matriculation, Vikram Sarabhai proceeded to Cambridge for his college education and took the tripos in Natural Sciences from St. John's College in 1940. With the beginning of World War II, he returned home and joined as a research scholar under Sir CV Raman at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. His interest in solar physics and cosmic ray led him to set up many observation stations around the country. He built the necessary equipment and took measurements at Bangalore, Pune and the Himalayas. He returned to Cambridge in 1945 and completed his PhD in 1947.

Back home, he became instrumental in establishing the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad in November 1947. The laboratory was established in a few rooms in the MG Science Institute of the Ahmedabad Education Society, which was founded by his parents. Subsequently, it got support from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Department of Atomic Energy.

The research that Vikram Sarabhai did on the time variations of cosmic rays concluded that meteorological effects could not entirely affect the observed daily variations of cosmic rays; Further, the residual variations were wide and global and these were related to variations in solar activity. Vikram Sarabhai visualised a new field of research opening up in solar and interplanetary physics.

The year 1957-1958 was designated as International Geo-physical year (IGY). The Indian programme for the IGY had been one of the most significant ventures of Sarabhai. This gave him exposure to new vistas of space science with the launching of Sputnik-I in 1957. Subsequently, the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was formed, under his chairmanship.

Knowing the unique feature of Thumba on account of its proximity to the geomagnetic equator, Vikram Sarabhai chose this fishing village near Thiruvananthapuram on the Arabian Coast to set up the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching station (TERLS), the first rocket launching station in the country. In this venture he got active support from Homi Bhabha, who was then the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. The first rocket with sodium vapour payload was launched on November 21, 1963. In 1965, the UN General Assembly gave recognition to TERLS as an international facility.

After the sudden demise of Homi Bhabha in an air crash, Vikram Sarabhai took over as Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission in May 1966. He always longed that the practical application of science should reach the common man. He worked towards acquiring competence in advance technology for the solution of country’s problems based on technical and economic evaluation of its real resources. He initiated India’s space programme, which today is renowned all over the world.

Dr Vikram Sarabhai received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Medal in 1962. The nation honoured him awarding Padma Bhushan in 1966 and Padma Vibhushan (posthumously) in 1972.

Vikram Sarabhai passed away in his sleep on December 30, 1971.[3]

Vikram Sarabhai went to Sheth Chimanlal Nagindas Vidyalaya for his high school studies. Vikram 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.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai was born on August 12, 1919 at Ahmedabad in an affluent family of progressive industrialists. He was one of eight children of Ambalal and Sarla Devi. He had his early education in a private school, "Retreat" run by his parents on Montessori lines. Some of the great men of India such as Gurudev Rabindranath, J. Krishna Murthi, Motilal Nehru, V. S. Shrinivasa Shastri, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Maulana Azad, C. F. Andrews, C. V. Raman et al. used to stay with the Sarabhai family when they visited Ahmedabad. Mahatma Gandhi also once stayed at their house while recovering from an illness. Visits by such great men greatly influenced Vikram Sarabhai.[5] He married the celebrated classical dancer Mrinalini in 1942. The couple had two children. His daughter Mallika and son Karthikeya too became famous personalities in their own rights. [6]

Spouse: Mrunalini sarabhai (हिंदी:मृणालिनी साराभाई), famous classical dancer, she is sister of India's freedom fighter and revolutionary Dr Laxmi Sahgal.

Daughter: Mallika Sarabhai, (Film and Theater artist, classical dancer, leading social activist, owner of populer art Academy "Darpan" (हिंदी: दर्पण)


Physical Research Laboratory[edit]

Known as the cradle of space sciences in India, the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) was founded on 11 November 1947 by Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. PRL had a modest beginning at his residence, the RETREAT, with research on cosmic rays.

The institute was formally established at the M.G. Science Institute, Ahmedabad, with support from the Karmkshetra Educational Foundation and the Ahmedabad Education Society. Prof. Kalpathi Ramakrishna Ramanathan was the first Director of the institute. The initial focus was research on cosmic rays and the properties of the upper atmosphere. Research areas were expanded to include theoretical physics and radio physics later with grants from the Atomic Energy Commission.

Today PRL is actively involved in research, related to five major fields of science. PRL is also instrumental in the PLANEX planetary science and exploration programme.

Looking at the needs of the country, he persuaded charitable trusts controlled by his family and friends to endow a research institution near his home in Ahmedabad. This led to the creation of the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad on November 11, 1947.

Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre[edit]

Vikram A. Sarabhai Community Science Centre (VASCSC) established in the 1960s by the eminent space scientist, Dr. Vikram A. Sarabhai is working towards popularizing science and mathematics education among students, teachers and the laypublic. Its mandate is to stimulate interest, encourage and expose the principles of science and scientific method and also to improve and find innovative methods of science education.[11]

Indian Space Research Organization[edit]

Dr. Sarabhai was convinced and envisioned that the resources in space have the potential to address the real problems of man and society. As Director, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) located in Ahmedabad, Dr. Sarabhai convened an army of able and brilliant scientists, anthropologists, communicators and social scientists from all corners of the country to spearhead the Indian space programme.[12]

Darpan Academy for Performing Arts, Ahmedabad[edit]

Darpana was established as a dance academy by Mrinalini and Vikram Sarabhai in 1949. For nearly two decades it taught classical dance. With Mrinalini as the lead dancer, and ChatunniPanicker as her partner, the Darpana dance company toured across the world. A few years later the great Kuchipudi guru, c R Acharyelu joined the faculty.[13]

Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad[edit]

The decade following independence in 1947 was witness to a surge of innovative ideas to build a fledgling independent nation into a model democratic state committed to growth with equity in the development of its people. The establishment of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) was the outcome of one such innovative initiative.

Led by Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Shri. Kasturbhai Lalbhai and proactively supported by the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Dr. Jivraj Mehta, a group of enlightened individuals set up IIMA. This group ably wove together a coalition of five actors - the governments at the centre and the state, the local industrialists, the Ford Foundation and the Harvard Business School, in a true spirit of public private partnership to establish the Institute.[14]


He was visiting Thiruvananthapuram to attend the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Thumba railway station being built to service the newly created Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station.
Sarabhai emphasized the importance of a space programme 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."

Homi Jehangir Bhabha, widely regarded as the father of India's nuclear science program, supported 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. After a remarkable effort in setting up the infrastructure, personnel, communication links, and launch pads, the inaugural flight was launched on November 21, 1963 with a sodium vapour payload. As a result, the first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was put in orbit in 1975 from a Russian Cosmodrome.

He led the Sarabhai family's diverse business conglomerate. His interests varied from science to sports to statistics. He set up Operations Research Group (ORG), the first market research organization in the country

Most notable among them are the Nehru Foundation for Development in Ahmedabad, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), which is considered a world class management institute. Also, he helped establish the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), which is doing a commendable job[15][16]  in R&D in physics. Sarabhai set up Ahmedabad Textiles Industrial Research Association (ATIRA), which helped the booming textiles business in Ahmedabad. He also set up the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT). Not stopping with all these, he went ahead and set up the Blind Men Association (BMA) which helps visually-challenged people with the necessary skills and support. Along with his wife Mrinalini Sarabhai, he founded the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts. Other well-known institutions established by him include the Faster Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) in Kalpakkam, Variable Energy Cyclotron Project in Calcutta, Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) in Hyderabad and Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) in Jaduguda, Jharkhand.

Distinguished Positions[edit]

  • President of the Physics section, Indian Science Congress (1962)
  • President of the General Conference of the I.A.E.A., Verína (1970)
  • Vice-President, Fourth U.N. Conference on 'Peaceful uses of Atomic Energy' (1971)

Memories== The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, (VSSC), which is the Indian Space Research Organization's lead facility for launch vehicle development located in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), capital of Kerala state, is named in his memory.

Along with other Ahmedabad-based industrialists, he played a major role in setting up of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

In 1973, the International Astronomical Union decided that a lunar crater Bessel A in the Sea of Serenity will be known as the Sarabhai crater.[17][18]


  1. ^ [1] on Vikram Sarabhai
  2. ^ [2] on Vikram Sarabhai
  3. ^ [3] The Visionary- Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai
  4. ^ Welcome To ISRO :: Former Chairman :: Dr.Vikram Sarabhai - Biodata. Retrieved on 2013-07-28.
  5. ^
  6. ^ [4] The famous peopel - Vikram Sarabhai
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Vikram Sarabhai: A Life by Amrita Shah, 2007, Penguin Viking ISBN 0-670-99951-2
  11. ^
  12. ^ [5] ISRO - Genesis Page
  13. ^ [6] Darpan Academy History
  14. ^ [7] IIMA - Aboutus
  15. ^ "Vigyan Prasar, Dr. Vikram Sarbhai". 
  16. ^ "ISRO Dr. Vikram Sarabhai". 
  17. ^ Antonín Rükl: Atlas Měsíce, Aventinum (Praha 1991), chapter Bessel, page 74, ISBN 80-85277-10-7 (Czech)
  18. ^ Crater Sarabhai on Moon Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, IAU, USGS, NASA

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Position created
ISRO Chairman
Succeeded by
M. G. K. Menon