DESTINY chose Professor Satish Dhawan to succeed the legendary Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and lead India’s space programme into the next generation. Destiny chose him as the most capable follower of Dr. Sarabhai’s footprint in creating generations of capable scientists and administrators of India’s space programme. And Destiny chose him to be regarded as Father of India’s experiential fluid dynamics research. But there were raised eyebrows when the young Prof. Satish Dhawan returned to India and joined the country’s fledgling science programme. But then, that was the call from Destiny. For, he was a man of Destiny, later to be known as a leading architect of India’s future success in space science and exploration. It is not without reason that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has named its satellite launch centre at Sriharikota after Prof. Satish Dhawan.
That he gave a fund of creative ideas to India’s space programme is actually and paradoxically smaller of his contributions. For, Prof. Satish Dhawan’s real contribution was in creating scientists and research leaders of his calibre — in the true Indian tradition of Guru. Looked at from that angle, Prof. Satish Dhawan was no doubt a leading scientist himself. But more importantly, he created a galaxy of leaders who subsequently led India into the difficult fields of rocket science — and man-management. As the nation celebrates his birth centenary, it is fully worth the while to recall his extremely meritorious academic achievements and professional accomplishments. Here is a scanty list, though: Prof. Satish Dhawan was not just a master of STEM (Science/ Technology/ Engineering/ Mathematics) subjects alone, but also enjoyed a legendary proficiency in English literature in which he held a Master’s degree.
Dhawan was a graduate of the University of Punjab in Lahore, a BSc in Physics and Mathematics; BE in Mechanical Engineering; Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; BE in Aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology; Double PhD in Mathematics and Aerospace Engineering under the supervision of his advisor Hans W Liepmann in 1951. Prof. Dhawan joined the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, in 1951 as faculty and became its director in 1962. At the age of 52, in the year 1972, Dr Satish Dhawan became Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Secretary to the Government of India at the Department of Space. But again, all this tells only half his story. The other half talks of his legendary leadership skills and capabilities of grooming young scientists — that include most of the later-year leading lights of India’s space programme, including Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Even after he retired officially from ISRO, Prof. Dhawan continued his association with ISRO and kept guiding the space programme into higher generation exploration and technology-application. Unfortunately, however, the story of such a remarkable man is not told in our schools and colleges and homes.
One wonders what right does the community of educators have to deprive the youngsters of the story of such brilliance. That remarkable man was a patriot of rare virtue. He never bragged about himself but never missed a chance to establish India’s point of view at every forum possible around the world. If there was to be anybody to succeed Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, then it had to be Prof. Satish Dhawan. If there was to be anybody to act as the most authentic symbol of India’s prowess in space science after Dr. Sarabhai, it had to be Prof. Dhawan. Those who knew Dr. Sarabhai also know what all this means. In other words, Prof. Satish Dhawan was as tall as his predecessor — in every which the way.