Billions of Indians held their heads high with pride when India’s Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan achieved their objectives. However, few would realize that all this would not have been possible without the contribution of Prof. U.R. Rao. His full name is Udupi Ramachandra Rao, and he is considered as ‘The Satellite Man of India’. He was the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). He also held several other important posts like Chairman of the Governing Council of the Physical Research Laboratory and Nehru Planetarium, Bengaluru. He was also the Chancellor of the Indian Institute for Space Science and Technology (IIST).
He was honored with the highest civilian awards of India; the Padma Bhushan in 1976 and Padma Vibhushan in 2017 by the Government of India.
Early Life and Education
Udupi Ramachandra Rao was born on March 10, 1932 in Adamaru in Karnataka. He had his schooling at Adamaru and secondary education at Christian High School, Udupi. In 1952, he did his Bachelor in Science from Government Arts and Science College, Anantpur. Later in 1954, he completed his Masters in Science from the prestigious Banaras Hindu University.
Dr. Vikram Sarabhai was impressed with his talents and became his guide for his Ph. D. research at Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad from where he was awarded the degree in 1960.
U.R. Rao joined the MIT, USA as a Faculty Member and then joined University of Texas at Dallas, as Assistant Professor.
It was here that he acquired expertise in Space and satellites. He worked as a prime experimenter on several Pioneer and Explorer spacecrafts.
In 1966, he returned to India and joined the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad as a Professor.
Contributions to India’s Space Programs
Under Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Rao worked as a cosmic ray scientist. He also continued his research in the MIT and he became one of the first scientists to establish the continuous nature of the solar wind and its effect on geomagnetism on earth. For this he used the data from Mariner 2 observations.
He also undertook several studies on the Pioneer and Explorer spacecraft observations. His studies resulted in better understanding of the solar cosmic ray phenomena and the electromagnetic state of the interplanetary space. He was then convinced of the need to use space technology for rapid development.
In 1972, Rao took upon himself the responsibility for the establishment of satellite technology in India. In 1975, his efforts led to the development of the first Indian satellite Aryabhata.
His expertise and guidance helped in development of more than 18 satellites. This included the second satellite of India, Bhaskara; Rohini, INSAT-1 and INSAT-2 series of multipurpose satellites. Also the remote sensing satellites like the IRS-1A and IRS-1B were designed, fabricated and launched. This achievement was helped by the development of Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment or APPLE. These satellite provided communication, remote sensing and meteorological services to India.
Contributions as Chairman of ISRO
In 1985, Prof. U.R. Rao became the Chairman of Space Commission; and Secretary, Department of Space.
In 1992, the ASLV rockets were successfully launched which was the result of the development of rocket technology.
In 1995, PSLV launch vehicle successfully launched an 850 kg satellite into a polar orbit. This was due to the development of the PSLV launch vehicle by ISRO under his stewardship.
Rao had already initiated the development of the geostationary launch vehicle or GSLV and the development of cryogenic technology for rockets. He was made the first Chairman of Antrix Corporation.
Awards, Accolades and Additional Responsibilities
For his contribution in the space and rocket technology, he was honored with Padma Bhushana in 1976, and Padma Vibhushan in 2007. These are the highest civilian awards. Besides this, he has received several national and international awards; such as the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in 1975; PC Mahalnobis Medal in 1987; Yuri Gagarin Medal of USSR in 1991.
Rao also held a number of responsibilities such as:
- Central Board of Directors, Reserve Bank of India; Member, Additional Director, Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Private Ltd., Bangalore.
- Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow.
- Chairman, Karnataka State Science and Technology; Chairman, Bangalore Association of Science Education.
- Chairman of the Governing Council of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.
He was also an elected Chairman of the 30th International Antarctic Treaty Consultative Committee Meeting which was held at Delhi in April, 2007. U.R. Rao also published more than 300 scientific and technical papers in various national and international journals. He has also written several books on Space Technology.
Prof. U.R. Rao died on 24 July 2017 in Bangalore at his home. He was 85. His death was mourned by the scientific community and billions of Indians for whom he was the Satellite Man of India. He was the inspiration behind the launch of India in space with Aryabhata in 1975 and later with a slew of satellites. He was also instrumental in India’s mission to outer space including the Moon and Mars expeditions. In 2013, he became the first and only Indian to have been inducted in the Satellite Hall of Fame, Washington; and also in 2016 to the inducted in International Astronautics Federation (IAF). His memories will always be cherished as India continues taking Giant Strides in space.
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah