Source: The Hitavada      Date: 26 Jul 2017 11:32:03

WITH the demise of Prof. U.R. Rao, the world has lost a legendary scientist whose absence will be felt particularly in India. As a leading space scientist, Prof. U.R. Rao was one of the early architects of India’s space programme and led the ambitious project with distinction. He was one of the few young scientists hand-picked by the iconic Dr. Vikram Sarabhai to take forward the national agenda in space research and science. Eventually, Prof. Rao rose to become Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and served the nation with aplomb. Now that he is no more, India’s scientific community as well as common people will keep grieving for his absence. For, wherever the Indians talked of science, Prof. Rao’s name was among the few often cropping up in conversation. India will miss this son very badly. 

True, Prof. Rao was a ripe 85 when he passed away, and was away from active participation in Indian space programme for quite some time. The speciality of India’s space programme led by ISRO, however, is that all the past chairmen or directors of scientific icons are regularly connected with the thought-process. In ISRO, persons may retire, but their participation in the overall thought-process is never allowed to lapse. As per this convention, Prof. Rao was always available to ISRO on call, and at times on his own volition.

But in those days more than fifty years ago when Dr. Vikram Sarabhai started laying foundation of India’s ambitious space programme, he also built several institutions of global merit, the famed Physical Research Laboratory of Ahmedabad being one of those. Prof. Rao was associated with that activity and was assigned to the newly formed space research programme by his dynamic guru. From that moment on, Prof. Rao became an integral and inseparable part of the leadership team that shaped the Indian forays into outer space.

But things were not easy at all. For, as they started building the national dream, the Indian space and atomic scientists faced tremendous opposition from the global scientific community -- purely on political ground. Only marginal cooperation was available from advanced nations like the United States or Soviet Union (now Russia). So, depending on indigenous innovation that came for a heavy price and debilitating failures, ISRO made its mark. In that process, Prof. U.R. Rao played a stellar role.

The story of ISRO, therefore, is also the story of countless scientists who made their signal contributions to the national goal and the Indian dream -- of putting spacecraft straight on the Moon and also circumvent the celestial bodies like the Mars. All those dreams are now a reality for India. Yet, when the first idea of those achievements was born, it appeared sheer madness to many -- even in India. Prof. U.R. Rao became one of the early votaries of that vision and convinced the nation and the world successfully that India could achieve its goal.

That Prof. U.R. Rao was a great scientist and a great leader of men, is only a smaller part of his story. The bigger part is that he and his associates led the nation spiritually into the space forays. So many names come up from the memory bank along with the name of Prof. U.R. Rao: Prof. Brahma Prakash, Prof. Satish Dhawan, Dr. Vasant Gowarikar, Dr. Kasturirangan, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Aravamudan, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam ...! Each was a Himalayan peak of India’s lofty dream. And, Prof. U.R. Rao shone with his personal splendour among all those greats.
His story, therefore, is the story of India’s space programme, India’s celestial aspirations, and also India’s leap into a higher defence preparedness. His absence will be sorely felt. For, he was one son of Mother India who she had blessed specially.