APJ Abdul Kalam: From ‘Missile Man’ to ‘People’s President’


APJ Abdul Kalam worked as a scientist and science administrator, mainly at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) before he became the president.

APJ Abdul Kalam was considered the father of the country’s missile programme and served as the president for five years from 2002.

Kalam was closely involved in India’s civilian space programme and military missile development efforts, earning him the sobriquet ‘Missile Man’.

He worked as a scientist and science administrator, mainly at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) before he became the president.

Here’s more about the life and times of APJ Abdul Kalam:

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born on October 15, 1931, in a poor Tamil Muslim family in Rameswaram.

After graduating from the Madras Institute of Technology in 1960, he joined DRDO as a scientist. He started his career by designing a small helicopter for the Indian Army.

In 1969, Kalam was transferred to ISRO, where he was project director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) which successfully deployed the Rohini satellite in orbit.

Kalam also directed projects which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme in the 1970s.

He later became chief executive of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme which developed missiles like Agni and Prithvi.

Kalam served as the chief scientific adviser to the Prime Minister and the secretary of the DRDO from July 1992 to December 1999.

He played a pivotal technical and political role in India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, shortly after the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government came to power.

APJ Abdul Kalam also explored how defence or aerospace technology could be applied to save lives.

The Kalam-Raju stent (named after the former president and cardiologist Dr B Soma Raju), which came out in 1994, was made from surgical-grade stainless steel provided by MIDHANI (Mishra Dhatu Nigam, a public sector undertaking) in Hyderabad. It paved the way for the production of new-generation stents in India.

Introduced in 1998, light-weight callipers for the polio-affected was a brainchild of Kalam, when he was the director of Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) in Hyderabad, and BN Prasad, then head of orthopaedics at the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences.

The callipers were made of glass-filled polypropylene, used in missiles — reducing their weight from four kilograms to 400 grams, providing relief to users.

Kalam succeeded KR Narayanan and served a full five-year term from 2002 until 2007 after he won the presidential elections. He secured the backing of all political parties.

He returned to a life of education, writing, and public service after his term. He received several prestigious awards, including India’s highest civilian honour the Bharat Ratna in 1997, Padma Bhushan in 1981 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1990.

APJ Abdul Kalam, a vegetarian bachelor, was quoted as saying that like most of the technology he spearheaded, he himself was “Made in India”, having never been trained abroad.

He learnt to play the veena and also wrote poetry in Tamil besides writing several books, including Wings of Fire: An Autobiography and Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power within India.

AJP Abdul Kalam’s birthday is marked as the World Students’ Day.

A role model for students and young people Kalam was always happy to be among them and educational institutions. He died in the premises of an educational institution. Kalam suffered a cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture to the students of IIM Shillong on July 27, 2015.

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