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Prof Udupi Ramachandra Rao: A pioneer who put India in the big league of Space

Prof Udupi Ramachandra Rao played a stellar role in shaping key space programmes that put the country in the big league of space.
Written by: PTI Bengaluru July 24, 2017 16:02 IST
PTI

From India's first satellite to the proposed solar mission, Prof Udupi Ramachandra Rao played a stellar role in shaping key space programmes that put the country in the big league of space. An internationally acclaimed space scientist, Rao was credited for his original contributions to the development of space technology in India and its extensive application to communications and remote sensing of natural resources.

He left his own imprint in the development of space science in the country by serving as a link between generations of technologists and scientists.

Rao was associated with almost all space programmes of ISRO, from the first Indian satellite 'Aryabhata' in 1975 to the mission to the Moon (Chandrayan-1) to Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyan) in one capacity or the other.

He was also involved with the proposed Aditya mission to the Sun.

Rao was currently serving as Chairman of the Governing Council of the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad and the chancellor of the Indian Institute of Science and Technology at Thiruvananthapuram.

Born in March 1932 at nondescript Adamaru in the coastal Udupi district of Karnataka to Lakshminarayana Acharya and Krishnaveni Amma, he completed his initial education in Udupi.

He did his junior college in Ballary and BSc at Ananthpur under Madras University, before moving to Banaras Hindu University for MSc.

Rao completed his Ph.D at Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad under the guidance of Dr Vikram Sarabhai, regarded as the father of India's space programme.

Rao, who served as faculty Member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Assistant Professor at University of Texas at Dallas carried out investigations as a prime experimenter on a number of pioneer and explorer spacecraft.

He returned to India in 1966 and joined Physical Research Laboratory with Sarabhai.

He took up the responsibility for the establishment of satellite technology in India in 1972, as Project Director- Indian Scientific Satellite Project.

It was under his guidance, beginning with the first Indian satellite 'Aryabhata', that over 18 satellites were designed and launched for providing communication, remote sensing and meteorological services.

Rao, who took charge as Chairman, Space Commission and Secretary, Department of Space in 1984 from Satish Dhawan, served as the chairman of ISRO for 10 years till 1994.

He accelerated the development of rocket technology which led to the successful launch of ASLV rocket and the operational PSLV launch vehicle, which can launch 2.0 ton class of satellites into polar orbit.

Rao also initiated the development of the Geo Stationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and the development of cryogenic technology.

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1976 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2017 for his contribution to Indian space technology.

Rao has to his credit over 350 scientific and technical papers covering cosmic rays, interplanetary physics, high energy astronomy, space applications, satellite and rocket technology and authored many books.

He also has the distinction of being the first Indian space scientist to be inducted into the prestigious 'Satellite Hall of Fame' in Washington DC on March 19, 2013, and the 'IAF Hall of Fame' in Mexico's Guadalajara.

Rao was also associated with Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium and Karnataka Science and Technology Academy and immensely loved interacting with students and teachers.