Administration Who's Who

APJ Abdul Kalam


Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (15 October 1931 – 27 July 2015) was an Indian scientist who worked as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. He was born and raised in Rameswaram.

Early life and family

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 to a Tamil Muslim family in the pilgrimage center of Rameswaram on Pamban Island, then in the Madras Presidency and currently in the State of Tamil Nadu. His father Jainulabdeen was a boat owner and imam of a local mosque; his mother Ashiamma was a housewife. His father owned a ferry that took Hindu pilgrims back and forth between Rameswaram and the now uninhabited Dhanushkodi. Kalam was the youngest of four brothers and one sister in his family.

In his school years, Kalam had average grades but was described as an intelligent and hardworking student who had a strong desire to learn. He spent hours on his studies, mostly mathematics. After completing his education at the Schwartz Higher Secondary School, Ramanathapuram, Kalam went on to attend Saint Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli. He moved to Madras in 1955 to focus on aerospace engineering in Madras Institute of Technology.

Journey and Achievements as a Scientist

After finishing his graduation in 1960, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam joined as a scientist in Defence Research and Development Organisation’s Aeronautical Development Establishment. At the very initial stage of his career, he designed a small helicopter for the Indian army. He also serviced under the renowned scientist Vikram Sarabhai as a part of the committee of INCOSPAR.

From 1963 to 1964, he visited the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the Wallops Flight Facility located at the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Langley Research Center of NASA located at Hampton, Virginia. In 1965, he managed independently in Defence Research and Development Organisation for the first time on an expandable rocket project. The programme was expanded in 1969 and more engineers were covered after receiving Government approval.

He became the Project Director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) when he was moved in 1969 to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). In July 1980, his team got a great victory in deploying the Rohini satellite near the orbit of the Earth. Dr. Kalam’s efforts in developing the projects on SLV-III and Polar SLV from the 1970s to 1990s came out to be successful.

Dr. Kalam guided Project Valiant and Project Devil that aimed at developing ballistic missiles using the technology of the SLV programme that was a success. It is known that the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, using her discretionary powers, allotted secret funds when these aerospace projects were disapproved by the Union Cabinet.

Dr. Kalam and Dr. V.S. Arunachalam, on the project of the then Defense Minister R. Venkataraman, worked on developing a quiver of missiles instead of one at a time. Dr. Kalam was made the Chief Executive of the programme, which was named Integrated Guided Missile Development programme.

From July 1992 to December 1999 he stood as the Secretary of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, and also the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister. This term witnessed the Pokhran II nuclear tests when Dr. Kalam played a key technological and political role. At the time of the testing phase, Kalam, along with R. Chidambaram, was made the Chief Project Coordinator.

Dr. Kalam’s Tenure as President of India

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on 10 June 2002 proposed Dr. Kalam’s name for the Presidential post to the Leader of Opposition, Congress President Sonia Gandhi. The Nationalist Congress Party and the Samajwadi Party helped his candidature.

Dr. Kalam worked as the President of India from 25 July 2002 to 25 July 2007. He won the election, getting 922,884 votes, thus defeating Lakshmi Sehgal, who got 107,366 votes. Dr. Kalam succeeded K.R. Narayanan as the 11th President of India.

He was the third President of India to have received the grand Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honor. It was before given to Dr. Sarvapali Radhakrishnan in 1954 and Dr. Zakir Hussain in 1963. He was the first bachelor and scientist to live in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Awards and Recognitions

  • The nation honored him with Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, in 1997 for his contribution to the field of scientific research, development, and modernization of technology in the defense sector of India.
  • In 1990, Kalam was awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the Indian Government for his work with the DRDO and ISRO and as scientific advisor to the Government.
  • In 1981 Kalam received the Padma Bhushan
  • In 1998, the Government of India presented to Kalam the Veer Savarkar Award.
  • The Alwar Research Centre, Chennai, bestowed on Kalam the Ramanujan Award in 2000.
  • The University of Wolverhampton in the UK bestowed on Kalam the Honorary Doctorate of Science in 2007.
  • California Institute of Technology, USA, honored him with the International von Karman Wings Award in 2009.
  • In 1997, the Indian National Congress conferred him with the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration.
  • Kalam received the Hoover Medal from ASME Foundation, U.S.A, in 2009.
  • The Royal Society of UK honored Dr. Kalam with the King Charles II Medal in 2007.
  • In 2008, Kalam received the Doctor of Engineering (Honoris Causa) from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
  • In 2010 The University of Waterloo honored Kalam with the Doctor of Engineering
  • In 2011, he became an honorary member of the IEEE.
  • In 2012, the Simon Fraser University conferred on him the Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa).
  • In 2013, he received the Von Braun Award from National Space Society in recognition of his excellence in the leadership and management of space-related projects.
  • In 2014, he received an honorary degree in Doctor of Science from Edinburgh University, UK.
  • 2015 – The United Nations recognized Dr. Kalam’s birthday as “World Student’s Day”.