It was quite a long journey from remote Rameshwaram Island in Tamil Nadu to New Delhi’s imposing Rashtrapati Shawna. For the President, Dr. Abdul Kalam. Dr. Kalam was born in simple Tamil family on 15 October, 1931. His father name was Jainulabdeen, and his mother name was Aasyama. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam studied at Schwartz High School in Ramanathapuram, where he was fortunate to study under some inspiring teachers that he remembers to this day with gratitude. He completed his B.Sc. Degree at St Joseph’s College, Tiruchirapalli. It was here when his interest in engineering soared and he enrolled for a course in Aeronautical Engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology from 1954 to 1957. Then he joined Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as a trainee in 1958.
Later Kalam joined Directorate of Technical Development and Production (DTD&P) at Senior Scientific Assistant. Then he was transferred to the Aircraft and Armament Testing unit (A&ATU) at Kanpur to get shop-floor exposure to aircraft maintenance. Three years later, the Aeronautical Development Established (ADE) was set up in Bangalore and he was posted there.
At ADE, Kalam worked as a senior scientific assistant, heading small team. His team developed a prototype hovercraft. Despite the then, Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon’s interest in the project, it remained incomplete. In 1962, he joined Indian Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR), a fledgling Indian space institute, which would later be renamed as Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO); soon he was given posting at newly established Thumba Equatorial Earth Launching Station (TERLS) in the vicinity of Thiruvananthapuram. Here Kalam initiated Fibre Reinforced Plastics (FRP) activities, then, after a stint with the aerodynamics and design group, he joined the satellite launch vehicle team at Thumba, near Trivandrum and soon became Project Director for SLV-3. During the tenure, the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) started developing its own indigenous surface-to-air missile, project to which Kalam was shifted in 1975, as a rocked specialist to assess the progress made in aerodynamics, structure, design and propulsion of the missile. Three goals are set for the SLV project, firstly development and flight qualification of all subsystems through sounding rockets by 1975, secondly sub-orbital flights by 1976 and finally orbital flight in 1978. After years of dedicated effort by Dr. Kalam and his team, the first 23-metre, 17-ton, 4 stages SLV was ready for launch, but it failed.
The team undeterred by the failure went ahead, and on jyly18, 1980, India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle, SLV-3, successfully lifted off from SHAR. Amidst widespread acclaim, the team set itself new goals, including development of Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicles (ASLVs). The year 1981 saw the launch of the next SLV-3, SLV-D. With the launch of SLV-3 India became the fifth country to achieve satellite launch capability.
In February 1982, Dr. Kalam was appointed as Director, DRDL. Kalam was entrusted with the development of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), India’s most successful military research programme. The programme comprises five major projects for establishing missile re-entry technology. These five projects scheduled for completion in 10 years comprises development of Prithvi, Trishul, Agni, Nag and Akash.
On September 16, 1985, the first phase of the Missile Programme was conducted, when Trishul blasted off from the test range at Sriharikota. An even greater one, the successful testing of Agni in 1989, followed this achievement. He was later honoured by Padma Vibhushan in 1990, the year that also saw the successful test firing of Akash. The establishment of the Research Centre Imarat (RCI), a campus 8 km from DRDL, in 1988 was perhaps the most satisfying achievement for Kalam during the missile years.
The Missile Council declared 1991, the year of Initiative for DRDL, in recognition for his great contribution to Indian Defence he was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1997. Soon after the nuclear tests of 1998, Kalam was nominated Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India with the rank of a Union Cabinet Minister in November 1999, a position he held till November 2001. On December 8, 2000, the Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, Shri K.C. Pant conferred the ‘Lifetime Contribution Award. Since then he has been teaching at the Anna University. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam took oath as President of India on July, 25 2002. Nowadays he is fellow of Indian National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, Vice-President of Astronautical Society of India, Fellow of National Academy of Medical Sciences (India), Honorary Fellow of Institution of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers and as ISRO Distinguished Professor.
He wrote three books very famous books, Ignited Minds, Wings of Fire and India 2020 a vision of the New Millennium.
The Wings of Fire is an autobiography of Kalam wherein he describes the story of his rise from obscurity and his personal and professional struggles. Dr. Kalam has spent the past few years developing the concept of India 2020: a vision of the New Millennium – a blueprint for transforming India into a developed nation by the year 2020. He calls it’ the second vision of e nation and says he wants to focus of the children of India to create in their minds a love for science and the nation’s mission-a developed India. What remains to be seen is whether kalam, who has managed to keep a perfect balance between the limelight and shadows by remaining backstage through his stints as scientist until today, can now represent India the winning smile and halo of genius that seems to hover over him.