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A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (1931–2015) General History
November 15, 2017

In 1963 Kalam was sent to the US for a six-month training programme on sounding rocket launching techniques.Years later the amusing suggestion was
made that Kalam had learnt his space technology during that visit, but what attracted Kalam most was a painting at the Wallops Island facility, depicting Tipu Sultan’s soldiers using rockets against the British during the 18th century Anglo-Mysore wars (– incidentally a subject shared interest).

After the successful launches of sounding rockets at TERLS, Sarabhai began conceptualizing an Indian Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV). As a space programme
began getting formulated and the Space Science and Technology Centre (later named VSSC after Vikram Sarabhai) came up at Veli Hill, I got to work with Kalam more closely. Among these projects were one on rarefied gas dynamics (with S. M. Deshpande), developing Monte Carlo codes for solving the Boltzmann equation on problems such as determination of satellite drag, and another on high-velocity flows (with N. M. Reddy) on heat transfer on nose
cones and in nozzles. This and a variety of technical reviews took some of us to Trivandrum every now and then. Meanwhile in 1972, following the untimely
passing away of Vikram Sarabhai the previous year when he was only 52, Satish Dhawan had taken over as Chairman of a reorganized ISRO and heading
the newly established Space Commission and Department of Space The development of an Indian SLV that could put a small 40 kg class Indian
satellite into low-earth orbit quickly became the most ambitious project on the ISRO agenda. Kalam was appointed Project Manager of the SLV-3 mission (as
the vehicle got to be designated). This was a somewhat surprising appointment, and there were members of the scientific community who were skeptical about the project’s chances of success, both within and outside ISRO, and the adequacy of Kalam for the task. However Dhawan had seen enough of Kalam in operation to conclude that he was one person who had delivered on what he had promised, because of his remarkable ability to work in teams and lead them. When the first launch failed in 1979 the fears of the pessimists seemed confirmed. However the second one launched a year later succeeded,
and placed a 35 kg Rohini satellite in a 400 km orbit. The story of what happened immediately after these two events is well known: after the failure,
Kalam wanted to resign, but Dhawan, who persuaded him to stay, faced the press answering the inevitable awkward questions. After a long internal meeting
analysing the causes of the failure, Kalam formally took responsibility for it, an admission that was followed by complete silence in the meeting, till Dhawan
concluded it saying ‘I am going to put Kalam in orbit!’. After the success of the second launch Dhawan chose to remain in the background and asked Kalam to go talk to the press.

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