Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai (12 August 1919 – 30 December 1971) was an Indian scientist and innovator widely regarded as the father of India's space programme. Sarabhai received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Medal in 1962. The nation honoured him awarding Padma Bhushan in 1966 and Padma Vibhushan (posthumously) in 1972.
Son of Ambalal Sarabhai, he came from the famous Sarabhai family of India who were major industrialists committed to the Indian independence movement. Vikram Sarabhai married the classical dancer Mrinalini in 1942. The couple had two children. His daughter Mallika gained prominence as an actress and activist, and his son Kartikeya Sarabhai too became an active person in science. During his lifetime, he practiced Jainism and belonged to the Shrimal Jain community of Ahmedabad.
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Known as the cradle of space sciences in India, the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) was founded in 1947 by Vikram Sarabhai. PRL had a modest beginning at his residence, the RETREAT, with research on cosmic rays.
The institute was formally established at the M.G. Science Institute, Ahmedabad, on 11 November 1947 with support from the Karmkshetra Educational Foundation and the Ahmedabad Education Society. Prof. Kalpathi Ramakrishna Ramanathan was the first Director of the institute. The initial focus was research on cosmic rays and the properties of the upper atmosphere. Research areas were expanded to include theoretical physics and radio physics later with grants from the Atomic Energy Commission.
He led the Sarabhai family's diverse business conglomerate. His interests varied from science to sports to statistics. He set up Operations Research Group (ORG), the first market research organization in the country. Most notable among them are the Nehru Foundation for Development in Ahmedabad and the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), the Ahmedabad Textile Industry's Research Association (ATIRA) and the (CEPT). Along with his wife Mrinalini Sarabhai, he founded the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts. Other institutions established by him include the Faster Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) in Kalpakkam, Variable Energy Cyclotron Project in Calcutta, Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) in Hyderabad and Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) in Jaduguda, Jharkhand.
Sarabhai started a project for the fabrication and launch of an Indian satellite. As a result, the first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was put in orbit in 1975 from a Russian cosmodrome.
The decade following independence in 1947 was a witness to a surge of innovative ideas to build a fledgling independent nation into a model democratic state committed to growth with equity in the development of its people. The establishment of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) was the outcome of one such innovative initiative.
The Jain community has always nurtured exceptional talent whether it is eminent scientist Vikram Sarabhai, who is considered the father of the country's space programme, or poet, thinker and spiritual leader Banarsidas who composed the magnum opus Ardhakathanaka, the first ever autobiography in Hindi literature.
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M. G. K. Menon