Prof Satish DhawanProf Satish Dhawan passed away late last night. A multifaceted personality, Prof Dhawan, was truly one of the most distinguished Indians of our times – a brilliant aeronautical engineer, an outstanding Space scientist, a Philosopher, a humanist, and above all else, a great visionary. His great human qualities, combining intense personal charm with a deep commitment to social values and an extraordinary objectivity in management, have led several generations of students, colleagues and administrators to efforts that would not have been undertaken otherwise.

Prof Dhawan was born on 25th September, 1920 in a distinguished family. His father was a high-ranking civil servant of undivided India and retired as the resettlement Commissioner of Government of India at the time of partition. One of his uncles B D Dhawan, was Governor of Punjab.

He graduated from the University of Punjab with an unusual combination of degrees: BA in Mathematics and Physics, MA in English Literature and a BE in Mechanical Engineering. In 1947 he obtained an MS in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, and moved to the California Institute of Technology, where he was awarded the Aeronautical Engineer’s Degree in 1949 and a Ph.D in Aeronautics and Mathematics in 1951 with Prof Hans W Liepmann as adviser.

Prof Dhawan joined the Indian Institute of Science in 1951 and became its Director in 1962. Two outstanding features of his tenure as the Director of Institute reveal Satish Dhawan’s philosophy in research – first, they were carried out at low cost with indigenous development or adaptation of whatever materials, skills and instrumentation were available at the time; second, the basic research areas investigated in his laboratories were all inspired in some way by the problems faced by the newly-born aircraft industry of the country.

Prof Dhawan took over as Chairman of Space Commission and Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and Secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Space in 1972. In the following decade, Prof Dhawan directed the Indian space programme through a period of extraordinary growth and spectacular achievement. As Chairman, Space Commission and Secretary, Department of Space, Prof Dhawan led the Indian space programme to an astonishing state of maturity. In doing so, he provided a model for the country on how to define, formulate and organize high technology projects, and deliver sophisticated products within stipulated timeframes. Major programmes on satellite and launch vehicles were carefully defined and systematically executed and pioneering experiments were carried out in remote sensing and satellite communications during this period. Prof Dhawan’s leadership and later his continued advice was always marked by scrupulous objectivity and a deep concern for the society’s problems.

Prof Dhawan’s stewardship of ISRO was distinguished by his keen sensitivity to the true needs of a developing nation, a confident appreciation of the ability of ISRO’s scientists and engineers, and the involvement of Indian industry, both Public and Private, with ISRO’s efforts. But, above all else, what was striking about Prof Dhawan was his deep commitment to human values and the use of Science and Technology for development. The space community in India owes an everlasting debt of gratitude to Prof Dhawan for imbuing it with an abiding sense of technolgical excellence, human values, social commitment.

While many awards were bestowed on Prof Dhawan for his contribution to science and technology by various bodies within India and abroad, the citation presented to Prof Satish Dhawan when he was awarded the 1999 Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration brings out the essence of the man:

”…. the award goes fittingly to one of our foremost scientists, teachers, and national builders, Prof Satish Dhawan, who has made multi-dimensional contributions to scientific education, research, policy fomulation and implementation and is deeply concerned with the solution of national problems through the use of science.”

ISRO, while mourning the sad demise of Prof Dhawan, salutes one of the truly great builders of modern India.