You must have heard of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. He is one of the most loved Presidents that the country had to date. He was a brilliant scientist and he has inspired several generations of children and youngsters in the country. But do you know anything about the man who groomed him and many other genius minds like him? We are talking about Prof. Satish Dhawan, a genius whose story hasn’t been told as frequently as it should have been. So, get ready to go through the untold story of a genius called Satish Dhawan.
Satish Dhawan: a born genius
There is an idiom in Hindi. It states, “putt ke paon palne me dikh jate hain”. This basically means that the extraordinary capabilities of a child get displayed right at the beginning of his birth. And this is actually quite true for Prof. Satish Dhawan.
Born in Srinagar in 1920, Prof. Dhawan was raised and educated in Lahore. A prodigious student, Dhawan took degrees successively in physics and mathematics, literature, and mechanical engineering. He was well-read in three different branches- humanities, science and technology.
In 1945, he went to Bangalore (present-day Bengaluru), where he worked at the newly-founded HAL for a year. He then went off to the US for further studies. He obtained two M.S. from the University of Minnesota and the California Institute of Technology. Additionally, he also did his PhD from the California Institute of Technology.
After returning to India, Dhawan joined the Aeronautics Department at the Indian Institute of Science. Noted aerospace scientist and fluid dynamicist Roddam Narasimha was one of his early students.
Dhawan’s contributions to Indian science
Dhawan’s education qualifications themselves entitle him to greatness. He was a great academician and is widely regarded as the father of experimental fluid dynamics research in India.
Yet, he also played a crucial role in taking the Indian space programme forward and is to be credited for some of the most successful projects carried out by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Dhawan succeeded Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of the Indian space programme, as the ISRO Chairman in 1972 and led at the space agency for a long period of 12 years. As per the official ISRO website, “He was a popular professor at the Indian Institute of Science, (IISc) located in Bangalore. He is credited for setting up the first supersonic wind tunnel in India at IISc. He also pioneered research on relaminarization of separated boundary layer flows, three-dimensional boundary layers and trisonic flows.”
And he was the man who led the ISRO towards great success in areas like satellite communications and remote sensing. The ISRO website states, “Prof. Satish Dhawan carried out pioneering experiments in rural education, remote sensing and satellite communications. His efforts led to operational systems like INSAT- a telecommunications satellite, IRS – the Indian Remote Sensing satellite and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) that placed India in the league of space faring nations.”
Satish Dhawan: a brilliant leader
Prof. Satish Dhawan was one of India’s many great scientific minds, so what sets him apart? The fact remains that he was a great leader too and this is why ISRO took off in a big way under his watch.
The late APJ Abdul Kalam was particularly fond of one of his real-life stories surrounding Prof. Satish Dhawan. It was related to the launch of a satellite by the ISRO in July 1979. Kalam was in charge of the project and had ordered the project to go ahead amidst reservations expressed by some of the members.
The launch had failed, and instead of going into space, the satellite went down into the Bay of Bengal. As a team leader, APJ Abdul Kalam was disappointed and also terrified at the thought of announcing it before the press. But Prof. Dhawan came to his rescue and came before television cameras to say that despite the failure, he had full faith in his team and that he was confident of the project succeeding in the next attempt.
The following August, the Kalam-led team made one more attempt and succeeded straightaway. This time, Prof. Dhawan congratulated the team and asked Kalam to address the press. This is how Prof. Dhawan led the ISRO and groomed brilliant minds like Late APJ Abdul Kalam into some of the greatest scientists across the world. Kalam would feelingly recall, “When the failure occurred, the leader owned it up. When the success came, he gave the credit to his team.”
Yet, you don’t get to hear of Prof. Satish Dhawan, who wasn’t just a great scientist but also one of the most brilliant leaders of the country who took India’s science community forward.
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