Dr. Vikram Sarabhai was a famous Jain who was born 12 August 1919 in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India. A brilliant physicist, he is widely considered to be the Father of the Indian Space Program.
He was one of eight children born to Ambalal Sarabhai and Sarla Devi. Particular about their children's education, his parents created their own school, "Retreat," after a discovery-oriented Montessori model. They were progressives who had many important visitors passing through to stay with them, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Motilal Nehru, and Rabindranath Tagore.
His father was a wealthy industrialist who owned many textile mills and so could afford to send Vikram Sarabhai on to the University of Cambridge in England following his matriculation from Gujarat College. Afterwards, he took work in cosmic ray research with the Indian Institute of Science in Bengalaru under the guidance of Nobel Prizer winner Sir C. V. Raman.
In 1942, he married the award-winning classical dancer, choreographer, and instructor Mrinalini Sarabhai, who taught bharatnatyam and kathakali to more than 18,000 students in her time. The marriage was held in Chennai with Mrinalini's own noteworthy family in attendance. Because of Gandhi's Quit India movement, active at the time, Vikram's family was unable to attend. They later had two children, Kartikeya and Mallika.
In 1945, he returned to Cambridge to complete his PhD, continuing his research into cosmic rays. When he received his PhD in 1947, Vikram returned to India and set up the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad with the help of family and friends. Vikram Sarabhai went on to establish a number of important institutions, not least of which was the Indian Space Research Organization. While he realized that India could not realistically compete in the international space race, he strongly felt that:
"To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society."
He worked toward that goal the whole of his adult life, teaming up with Dr. Homi Bhabha, the father of India's nuclear science program, to set up India's first rocket launching station. Later, he cooperated with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1966 to put in place the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment that came to fruition a few years after his death. He was also instrumental in the fabrication and launch of the first Indian satellite, Aryabhata. This was finally launched from the Russian Cosmodrome in 1975.
Additionally, he founded the Community Science Centre in Ahmedabad in 1966, an organization dedicated to science education, as well as the Blind Men Association for the visually challenged, Darpana Academy of Performing Arts (founded with his wife), and Operations Research Group, the first market research organization in India, among others.
A dedicated visionary, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai died in his sleep on 31 December 1971, leaving behind him a scientific and charitable legacy to be remembered and celebrated in the years to come.