Professor Satish Dhawan-A Legend

Credit: ISRO

In the recent years, the great achievements of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) in the field of space technology have been frequently making headlines, giving the nation a sense of justifiable pride and inspiring many youngsters to reach for the stars. Subsequent successes in the launch of satellites are now greeted with cheers and applications of space technology have started permeating our daily lives. Now-a-days when we are all soaked with the happiness of launching Chandryaan 2 successfully and are aiming further for more space pursuits, we should also remember Prof. Dhawan, the man responsible for revolutionizing India's space program. Pofessor Satish Dhawan was a brilliant space scientist, who led Indian space program to extraordinary growth and spectacular achievement. A rocket scientist, he was considered by the Indian scientific community to be the father of experimental fluid dynamics research in India and was one of the most eminent researchers in the field of turbulence and boundary layers. Prof. Dhawan was born in Srinagar, on September 25, 1920 into a distinguished family. His father was a high-ranking civil servant of undivided India and retired as the resettlement Commissioner of Government of India at the time of partition.

He succeeded Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of the Indian space programme, as Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1972. He was also the Chairman of the Space Commission and Secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Space. In the decade following his appointment he directed the Indian space programme through a period of extraordinary growth and spectacular achievement. Even while he was the head of the Indian space programme, he devoted substantial efforts towards boundary layer research. His most important contributions are presented in the seminal book Boundary Layer Theory by Hermann Schlichting. 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. 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.

National Recognition: Padma Vibhushan, Indira Gandhi Award

Fields: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Institutions where worked: Indian Space Research Organization, Indian Institute of Science, California Institute of Technology, National Aerospace laboratories, Indian Academy of Sciences and Indian Space Commission

 

 

Listed below are some facts about this multi-faceted personality that we must know:

  • Satish Dhawan completed his graduation from the University of Punjab with an unusual combination of degrees: BA in Mathematics and Physics, MA in English Literature and a BE in Mechanical Engineering
  • In the year 1947, Dhawan obtained an MS in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, and moved to the California Institute of Technology, where he was awarded the Aeronautical Engineer's Degree in 1949 and a PhD in Aeronautics and Mathematics in 1951 where he had Prof Hans W Liepmann as adviser
  • In the year 1951, Prof Dhawan joined the Indian Institute of Science and in 1962 he became its Director
  • Such was his dynamism and dedication towards his work that, in 1962, he was appointed the Director of IISC. Not only was he the youngest to be appointed to the prestigious position, he would go on to remain the institution’s longest-serving, and undoubtedly most distinguished, Director
  • After serving as IISc Director for nearly nine years, in 1971, Dhawan went on a year’s sabbatical to Caltech, his alma mater in the USA. It was during this time that he got a call from the Indian embassy, conveying Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s request that he return to India and take charge of the Indian space programme following the sudden death of Vikram Sarabhai on December 30, 1971
  • After Sarabhai’s tragic death, Dhawan acquiesced to take over the helm of the country’s space programme but on two conditions — that the headquarters of the space programme was to be in Bengaluru and that he be allowed to continue as IISc’s Director (he would later go on to describe IISc as his first and greatest love). Indira Gandhi agreed to both and the eminent scientist returned to India after finishing his commitments at Caltech
  • He succeeded Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of the Indian space programme, as Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1972. He was also the Chairman of the Space Commission and Secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Space
  • While Prof Dhawan was the head of the Indian space programme, he devoted substantial efforts towards boundary layer research. His most important contributions are presented in the seminal book Boundary Layer Theory by Hermann Schlichting
  • He is credited for setting up the first supersonic wind tunnel in India at IISc
  • 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
  • After his death in the year 2002, the Indian satellite launch centre at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, was renamed as the Prof Satish Dhawan Space Centre.

 

Some quotes of distinguish personalities about Prof. Dhawan:

APJ Abdul Kalam and Roddam Narasimha (former director of NAL) wrote in their book, “Developments in Fluid Mechanics and Space Technology” that:

  • “Professor Dhawan in his professional career has been engineer, teacher, research scientist, technologist, manager, leader and adviser — often all at the same time”
  • “His great human qualities, deep commitment to social values and extraordinary objectivity in management have led several generations of students, colleagues and administrators to efforts that they would otherwise not have taken”

Moreover, he made it a point to encourage youngsters, give them the credit in the event of success and shoulder the responsibility in case of failure.

  • In this regard, India’s Missile Man and former President APJ Abdul Kalam had once recounted his experiences as the project director for the launch of India’s first launch vehicle, SLV-3. The first experimental launch of SLV-3 took place on August 10, 1979, but it was a failure. In the press conference that followed, Dhawan told Kalam that he would handle the situation.
  • This is what he said, “Friends, today we had our first satellite launch vehicle to put a satellite in the orbit. We could not succeed. In many technologies, we have succeeded, and in a few more, we have yet to succeed. Above all, I realise my team members have to be given all technological support. I am going to do that and the next mission will succeed”
  • The next time SLV-3 was launched (on July 18, 1980), it was a sensational success. The SLV-3 put a small 40-kg Rohini satellite into orbit in 1980, putting India truly into the space age). This time, Dhawan asked Kalam to handle the press conference along with his team members
  • “Professor Dhawan’s management philosophy was that when success comes in after hard work, the leader should give the credit of the success to the team members. When failure comes, the leader should absorb the failures and protect the team members,” recounted Dr. Kalam.

 

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