As a child, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam remembers being fascinated by the flight of seagulls. He grew up on the island of Rameshwaram in south India, where his father was a boat builder. Kalam's interest in flight led to a degree in aeronautical engineering, and eventually to his supervising the development of India's guided missiles. Along the way, he found time to write Tamil poetry and learned to play the veena, an instrument similar to the sitar. Today Kalam, 67, who is India's best known scientist, heads the mammoth Department of Defense Research and Development. He played a key role in the nuclear tests at Pokharan in the Rajasthan desert on May 11 and 13. "I remember the earth shaking under our feet," he recalls of that fateful experience.
Perhaps all frontiersmen are like that. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam has spent all his life near the three water frontiers of India. The newspaper boy of Rameswaram coast on the Indian Ocean spent 20 years dreaming of space frontiers at Thumba space centre on the Arabian Sea. The dreams of the next 20 years were mostly conjured up on the shores of the Bay of Bengal at Chandipur where he test-launched missiles and checked on vehicles that re-enter the atmosphere from space.
The dreamer of these oceanic frontiers is also one of India's frontiersmen in technology. A technology that not only fired Agnis, ignited Prithvis but also can green the barren lands, provide foods to the starving, and profit in world commerce. A First World dream for a third world nation.
It is a dream he shares with Yagnaswami Sundara Rajan, another technologist who had his stints in the Indian Space Research Organisation, the department of space contributing significantly to the communication satellite programme, the remote sensing programme and satellite metorology and mapping systems.
From the sea frontiers and space frontiers, the duo are now dreaming up frontiers of technology-driven prosperity for one billion people. In this they are inspired as much by the grain-rich fields of the green revolution as by the successes of remote-sensing satellites and re-entry vehicles. They see infinite energy that can be released not only from thermonuclear explosions but also from the human resource latent in the ordinary people of India.
Dr Kalam and Rajan believe that as a nation India should aim to reach at least the fourth position by 2020. And nobody is going to help us reach there, except ourselves. As the globe is shrinking into a village, there is also simultaneous denial of technologies.
But the same sense of purpose that made Pokharans and Prithvis possible can propel whole populations into prosperity. In the book India 2020, A Vision for the New Millennium, published by Viking-Penguin India, they identify exactly the bricks of technology that could build the dream. (Incidentally, Dr Kalam even otherwise seems to have the perfect 20-20 vision.
Things you didn't know about kalam
That Dr. Abdul Kalam is a bachelor and a teetotaler?
That he recites the Holy Quran and the Bhagvad Gita daily and is equally at home with both Holy Scriptures?
That Dr. Abdul Kalam has gone abroad for studies only once in 1963-64 to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States?
That as a young boy, he sold newspapers to enhance his family's income?
That he is so modest about his achievements that at every felicitation ceremony he gives full credit for India's success to his colleagues?
Childhood and Career
Oct 15, 1931 : Born at Dhanushkodi in Rameswaram district,Tamil Nadu. His father had to rent boats to pay his school fees. He studied at the Schwartz High School in Ramanathapuram.
1954-58 : After graduating in science from St. Joseph's College in Tiruchi, he enrolled for Aeronautical Engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology in 1954.
1958 Kalam joined the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) and served as a senior scientific assistant, heading a small team that developed a prototype hovercraft. But the project, never took off.
1962 : Following the lukewarm response to his hovercraft program, Kalam moved out of DRDO and joined Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)
1963-82 : Kalam joined the satellite launch vehicle team at Thumba, near Trivandram and soon became Project Director for SLV-3.
1980 : Rohini put into orbit in the month of July
1981 : Kalam honoured with the Padma Bhushan
1982 : Kalam returns to DRDO as its Director. Takes charge of India's integrated guided missile development program. The program envisaged the launch of five major missiles.
1992 : Kalam takes over as the Scientific Advisor to Union Defence Minister.
1997 : Kalam honoured with "Bharat Ratna", india's highest civilian award.
May 11, 1998 : Adorning a Gorkha hat in the Rajasthan deserts, he orchestrated India's underground nuclear tests. The scientist from a small hamlet in Tamil Nadu who had dreamt of India as a nuclear power many years ago had finally achieved it!
2002 : Kalam takes over as the President of India.
WINGS OF FIRE by Dr. APJ ABDULKALAM
I have three visions for India. In 3000 years of our history, people from all over the world have come and invaded us, captured our lands conquered our minds. From Alexander onwards. The Greeks, the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Dutch, all of them came and looted us, took over what was ours. Yet we have not done this to any other nation. We have not conquered anyone. We have not grabbed their land, their culture, their history and tried to enforce our way oflife on them. Why? Because we respect the freedom of others.
That is why my first vision is that of FREEDOM. I believe that India got its first vision of this in 1857, when we started the war of independence.It is this freedom that we must protect and nurture and built on. If we are not free, no one will respect us.
My second vision for India is DEVELOPMENT. For fifty years we have been a developing nation. It is time we see ourselves as a developed nation. We are among top 5 nations of the world in terms of GDP. We have 10 percent growth rate in most areas. Our poverty levels are falling, our achievements are being globally recognized today. Yet we lack the self-confidence to see ourselves as a developed nation, self reliant and self assured. Isn't this right?
I have third vision. The India must stand up to the world. Because I believe that unless India stands up to the world, no one will respect us. Only strength respects strength. We must be strong not only as a military power but also as an economic power. Both must go hand-in-hand. My good fortune was to have worked with three great minds. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai of the Dept. of space, Professor Satish Dhawan, who succeeded him, and Dr. Brahm Prakash, father of nuclear material.I was lucky to have worked with all three of them closely and consider this the great opportunity of my life. I see four milestones in my career:
ONE : Twenty years I spent in ISRO. I was given the opportunity to be the project director for India's first satellite launch vehicle, SLV3. The one that launched Rohini. These years played a very important role in my life of a Scientist.
TWO : After my ISRO years, i joined DRDO and got a chance to be the part of India's guided missile program. It was my second bliss when Agni met its mission requirements in 1994.
THREE : The Dept. of Atomic Energy and DRDO had this tremendous partnership in the recent nuclear tests, on May 11 and 13. This was the third bliss. The joy of participating with my team in these nuclear tests and proving to the world that India can make it. That we are no longer a developing nation but one of them. It made me feel very proud as an Indian. The fact that we have now developed for Agni a re-entry structure, for which we have developed this new material. A Very light material called carbon-carbon.
FOUR : One day an orthopaedic surgeon from Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences visited my laboratory. He lifted the material and found it so light that he took me to his hospital and showed me his patients. There were these little girls and boys with heavy metallic calipers weighing over three Kgs. each, dragging their feet around. He said to me: Please remove the pain of my patients. In three weeks, we made these Floor reaction Orthosis 300 gram calipers and took them to the orthopaedic center. The children didn't believe their eyes. From dragging around a three kg. load on their legs, they could now move around! Their parents had tears in their eyes. That was my fourth bliss!
Why is the media here so negative? Why are we in India so embarrassedto recognize our own strengths, our achievements? We are such a great nation. We have so many amazing success stories but we refuse to acknowledge them. Why? We are the second largest producer of wheat in the world. We are the second largest producers of rice. We are the first in milk production. We are number one in Remote sensing satellites. Look at Dr. Sudarshan, he has transferred the tribal village into a self-sustaining, self driving unit. There are millions of such achievements but our media is only obsessed with the bad news and failures and disasters.
I was in Tel Aviv once and I was reading the Israeli newspaper. It was the day after a lot of attacks and bombardments and deaths had taken place. The Hamas had struck. But the front page of the newspaper had the picture of a Jewish gentleman who in five years had transformed his desert land into an orchid and a granary. It was his inspiring picture that everyone woke up to. The gory details of killings, bombardments,deaths, were inside in the newspaper, buried among other news. In India we only read about death, sickness,terrorism, crime. Why are we so negative?
Another question: Why are we, as a nation so obsessed with Foreign things? we want foreign TVs, we want foreign shirts. We want foreign technology. Why this obsession with everything imported? Do we not realize that self-respect comes with self-reliance? I was in Hyderabad giving this lecture, when a 14 year old girl asked me for my autograph. I asked her what her goal in life is:
She replied: I want to live in a developed India. For her, for you, we will have to built this developed India. You must proclaim.
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam * Achievements
Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabhudin Adbul Kalam, was born on the 15th October, 1931, at Rameshwaram in TamilNadu. He did his B.Sc. at the St. Joseph's College, Tiruchi, and DMIT in Aeronautical Engineering at the MIT, Madras, during 1954-57. He joined the DRDO in 1958. During 1963-82, he served the ISRO in various capacities.
As Project Director, SLV-3, he was responsible for carrying out design, development, qualification and flight testing of 44 major sub systems. In 1982, as Director, DRDO, was entrusted with the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme. He conceived the programme cnstituting 5 major projects for meeting the requirements of the defence services and for establishing re-entry technology.
The development and successful flight test of Prithvi, Trishul, Akash, Nag, and Agni established the indigeneous capability towards self reliance in defence preparedness. The successful launching of 'Agni' surface-to-surface missile is a unique achievement which made India a member of an exclusive club of highly developed countries. Thus, through SLV and Guided Missile Programme a solid foundation has been created in the indigeneous testing and development of high technology Aerospace Projects.
An Advanced Technology Research Centre, called Research Centre Imarat has also been established by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as an extension of DRDL to undertake development in futuristic missile technology areas. He has also established a unique 3 tier management structure to integrate and commit technologists, academic institutions, Industries etc. As a crowing glory to all his achievements, he was appointed Scientific Advisor to Raksha Manthri and Secretary, Dept. of Defence Research and Development.
He is a member of Indian National Academy of Sciences, Astronautical Society of India and many other professional bodies. He has published two books.
Awards He has been Awarded with the India's Highest civilian Award "The Bharat Ratna" in 1997.
Starting with Anna University's first D.Sc., Honoris Causa, he has received many such including the one given by IIT, Bombay, BHU and others.
Other prestigious awards include Dr.Biren Roy Space Award, Om Prakash Basin Award for Science and Technology, National Nehru Award, Arya Bhatta Award.
Dr. Abdul kalam, is praised as a welder of people and a Gandhian Missile Man by R.K. Laxman, in his cartoon in "Times of India."
As a humanitarian and with his extreme simplicity, easy access, he has become a National Hero. He loves Tamil poetry and is interested in carnatic music. He has himself written poems in Tamil. He adores his Gurus of MIT and cherishes his education and training at MIT.
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Dreams To Ignite Young Minds
India has to have vision to become a developed nation. A good dream for our young people is the vision. Can we ignite our young minds? These are the thoughts that frequently 'fire' the mind of India's missile man-- this year (1998) Bharat Ratna awardee Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
In an interview to Science Express, the man who built biting molars and awesome muscles into India's missile programme outlined the vision he has of India of tomorrow. "Whenever there is a goal, the dynamics of performance changes, Technology is the economical strength of the nation", says soft-spoken Kalam. "India has people of high calibre and intelligence. The only thing required is more facilities in our labs, government funding and good leadership in scientific areas." After a pause, he fires another missile: "Most importantly, determined youngsters."
No wonder he advices the youth of the country to "dream, dream and dream and convert these into thoughts and later into actions."
Kalam's advice to the youngsters of the nation is to "think big" . "We are a nation of a billion people and we must think like a nation of a billion people. Only then can we become big."
Dr. Kalam's, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister and Secretary, Defence Research and Development is the second scientist to receive the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, after the late Dr. Homi Jehangir Baba.
This genius attributes his success to his parents and the team which worked relentlessly to achieve the goal.
Science, according to him, is a global phenomenon. He feels there are a few areas where India can develop its core competence. These areas are software engineering, computer products and design, agriculture and food, aviation, defence research and space technology and chemical engineering.
"This will lead to a highly beneficial economic and social progress for the nation," says Kalam.
The man who said, "Friends, you now have the fire to torch the Agni" turns out to be extremely shy. His love for the Bhagavad Geetha and the long mane almost gives the missile man the halo of a saint. In fact, his views on technology and life make him the copy book saint of science armed with Brahmastras and the power to heal wounds.
That is another passion of Kalam-using missiles that maime and kill to give a fresh hope to the disabled. In a U turn, Kalam has not shied in using the technology behind fire-spewing missiles to build artificial limbs and spring-like coils called stents to keep the heart vessels open.
He is one of those scientists who aims at putting technology created by him to multiple use. He used the light weight carbon-carbon material designed for Agni to make calipers for the polio affected. This carbon-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). "It was a great experience to see, in the orthopaedic Department of NIMS, how the light weight caliper could bring happiness to the polio affected", remembers Kalam.
Another important event that took place in Hyderabad is the development of the Cardiac stent. Cardiac stents are used during a Balloon Angioplasty. The clogged arteries are opened up using a balloon and stents are inserted to prevent the vessels from collapse.
"The stent developed by us costed much less (he is modest not to say that the cost is less than half) than the ones imported," explains Kalam.
Kalam says there are many more avenues wherein defence technology can be used for a social cause. The technology used for defence imaging systems can be used for medical imagery which is yet another value product, he says. "We are also working on a cost-effective lighter substitute for the Jaipur foot," he adds.
He is of the opinion that a mission oriented programme should be chalked out where in medical equipments and their maintenance should grow out of indigenous technology, thus making us self reliant.
But personally, given a chance would he rather opt to use technology solely for social purposes or continue with his missile programmes? "If India has to become a developed nation it has to have overall development. That includes the field of medicine, defence technology and everything else," says Kalam in a matter-of-fact tone.
Having rolled out sophisticated missiles at regular intervals, Kalam is now striving to make the reusable missiles dream a reality. Like the space shuttles, the reusable missiles can carry war-heads to a pre-determined target, deliver the fire power and return for another run.
The reusable missile's close 'cousin' is Nishant - the Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) or a one-time-use missile that can thumb its nose at even sophisticated radars.
Many of Kalam's pet projects like the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) and several other defence ventures under his command, are poised for a quantum leap next year.
According to a status report of major ongoing projects of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) headed by Kalam, the development of the five indigenous missiles under the IGMDP is progressing as per schedule.
"Agni" missile, the crown of the IGMDP, is being given top priority and DRDO scientists have been able to indigenously produce carbon-carbon composite material which could withstand temperatures upto 3500 degrees celsius during the flight of the missile.
UNI quoting Defence Minisry sources said production of 150-Km range "Prithvi" missile for the Army had already commenced and two flight trials of the 250-Km range, Indian Air Force (IAF) version, "Prithvi" had also been completed.
User trials of the other three missiles under the IGMDP - the 9 Km short range low level quick reaction Trishul for the three services, the 25Km medium range surface to air missile "Akash" with multiple target handling capability, the third generation 4Km range anti-tank "Nag" missile - were slated to commence next year.
In many ways, the "Akash" missile is emerging as a key weapon which is being developed by the DRDO as it employs ram rocket propulsion to facilitate carrying of bigger pay loads.
'Akash' is the key in the sense that ram rocket technology is also to be employed by India for the futuristic reusable missile systems.
As far as the current status of India's ambitious Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was concerned, the second LCA was under integration along with the simultaneous development of technology demonstrator TD-1.
Several new technologies had been established with regard to the LCA. They included carbon fibre composite structure, control law for unstable aircraft, digital fly-by-wire control system and advanced computing system.
The Kaveri engine had been developed and was undergoing evaluation. Its integration with LCA was expected in early 1999.
No country can throttle India's missile programme despite technology denial regimes, believes Kalam.
An important aspect of "the integrated guided missile development programme was identification of critical technologies and their indigenisation as the missile technology control regime was primarily directed at India."
Elaborating on his future plans, the senior most serving defence scientist referred to the Technology Mission 2020 which proposes to change the national status from a developing one to a developed one and involve 500 people from academia, industry and government. He also spoke about working on a 10 year self-reliance programme in defence technologies.
Kalam was born into a family of modest means in Rameshwaram, a small town in TamilNadu. It was his father who wanted him to take up science in the college. After graduating from St.Joseph College, Tiruchirapalli, he joined the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT) to specialise in Aeronautical Engg. This was indeed his launching pad for this promising young man who was destined to become the father of Indian missile programme. After a brief stint in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), he joined the Indian Space Research organisation (ISRO) in 1963. While at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, he developed the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3) which put the Rohini Satellite into orbit.
He later re-entered DRDO at the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad, as the director and this is where most of the research and development of his missile programmes were conceived and created. In his hour of glory, the missile man remembered his parents, co-workers especially at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram and a Hyderabad-based defence research laboratory, besides teachers who collectively contributed in various ways towards this achievement.