Remembering Satish Dhawan and His Legacy

Satish Dhawan at National Remote Sensing Agency in Hyderabad. Remote sensing data representation of BHASKARA-1’s observation can be seen in the background. [Credits: ISRO]

…The United Nations sponsorship of Thumba has assisted greatly in the Range’s service to the international scientific community through the participation of a large number of scientists from various countries for carrying out rocket experiments…

Satish Dhawan, 1976

Satish Dhawan, known for his leadership in the Indian Space Program, was an outstanding technologist who gave a systems approach to the organization structure and its scientific conduct. During his tenure as the Chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organization, India was able to put her first satellite into space. They were able to develop rocket propulsion technology among several other technological advancements in his leadership. A mentor to APJ Abdul Kalam (former President of India), Dhawan inspired a generation of space scientists in India.

L-R: Ved Prakash Sandlas, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Satish Dhawan, N T Rama Rao (Launch of SLV-D2 at SHAR, 17 April 1983)

Apart from being a great innovator, he was an avid reader. Jyotsna Dhawan, his daughter says, “He loved poking around in second-hand bookstores and in those days there were several in Bangalore. Although he himself was not a religious man, he had a deep respect for Indian philosophy, and so he read a lot. One of his absolute favourite books was a book of short stories by a little-read author now called HH Munro, whose pen-name was Saki.”

Société Européenne de Propulsion (SEP) was developing the VIKING engine in the late 60s. It was at a very crucial stage and required a considerable workforce. During a visit to France, Satish Dhawan, then ISRO Chairman, explored the possibility of technology transfer for a liquid propulsion engine with the President of SEP, which eventually led to an agreement with CNES.

APJ Abdul Kalam (Project Director, SLV-III) explaining trajectory to Satish Dhawan and other scientists. (1980, Bangalore)

It was during his tenure that APPLE Satellite was proposed, materialized, and launched on 19 June 1981 from Centre Spatial Guyana is near Kourou in French Guiana. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dedicated the satellite to the nation on 13 August 1981, symbolizing APPLE as the dawn of India’s satellite communication era. Satish Dhawan was at Space Application Centre where he introduced the team to the PM through a two-way video conference. Mrs. Gandhi was present at the New Delhi station. Her Independence Day address on 15 August 1981 was carried live by APPLE.

APPLE Satellite archival documents can be viewed here: APPLE