10 Major Achievements of Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam


Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (October 15, 1931 – July 27, 2015), known as Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, was an Indian scientist who served as the 11th President of India from July 25, 2002 to July 25, 2007. Kalam started his career as a scientist for the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) designing India’s first indigenous hovercraft. He then moved to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) where, among other things, he supervised the successful launch of India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3). He then returned to DRDO to lead the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP). Dr. Kalam served as the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and Secretary of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) from July 1992 to December 1999. During this period, he supervised the successful Pokhran-II explosions. For his immense contribution in the development of India, Dr Kalam received numerous awards during the course of his career including the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honor in India. Know more about the contributions of A. P. J. Abdul Kalam through his 10 major achievements.


#1 He helped build India’s first indigenous hovercraft

Abdul Kalam joined the Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), right after graduating from the Madras Institute of Technology in 1960. As a young scientist, he was assigned his first project to design and develop a hovercraft for the country’s defence applications. A hovercraft is an amphibious craft capable of travelling over land, water, mud, ice and other surfaces. After days of hard-work, Kalam and his team were successful in developing India’s first indigenous hovercraft which was named Nandi, the impressive white bull who acts as the vehicle of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva. Project Nandi received massive applause from the then Defense Minister, V.K Krishna Menon, and encouraged Kalam for his future endeavours. However, Project Nandi was shelved as the new government in power didn’t show any interest in the invention.

NANDI hovercraft
India’s first Hovercraft NANDI


#2 He was part of the team which set up TERLS

Though Project Nandi was put in cold storage, due to it Kalam got a call from the Indian Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) to attend an interview at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). At the time, INCOSPAR was formed out of the TIFR talent pool. Among the members of the selection panel who interviewed Kalam was Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian Space Programme and the founder of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Dr. Sarabhai took a deep interest in Kalam and selected him as a rocket engineer in INCOSPAR. The team of rocket engineers of which Kalam was a part, set up the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) in 1963. TERLS is used by ISRO to launch sounding rockets even today.

Abdul Kalam with Dr. Vikram Sarabhai
Young Abdul Kalam (left) with Dr. Vikram Sarabhai


#3 Kalam was the project director of India’s first SLV

In 1969, when INCOSPAR led to the birth of the ISRO, Kalam was transferred there and was initially involved in research about building rockets. In the early 1970s, ISRO introduced its own Satellite Launch Vehicle program owing to geopolitical and economic considerations. It was a program to develop the technology needed to launch satellites. Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam was made the project director of the program. Beginning with mechanical designing to electrical integration, Kalam single-handedly supervised every aspect of the project, which was a massive success. On July 18, 1980, Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3) was successfully launched from Sriharikota range in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. It deployed the Rohini satellite in near-earth orbit. It was the first successful satellite launch that took place on Indian soil and thereby made India the seventh member of an exclusive club of space-faring nations in international society.


#4 He was responsible for the successful launch of Agni and Prithvi missiles

After the huge triumph of SLV-III and dedicating the paramount years of his life to ISRO, Dr. Kalam was issued transfer orders to DRDO, where he was given the responsibility to lead the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP). According to the instructions of then Defence Minister R. Venkataraman, four missiles were to be developed simultaneously as part of the program. After years of consistent hard work and immense dedication, India got her first range of ballistic missiles, the Prithvi, the Agni, the Aakash, and the Nag. Out of the four, two missiles, namely, Prithvi, the tactical surface-to-surface missile; and Agni, an intermediate-range ballistic missile; were launched successfully. Due to this mammoth achievement under his leadership, India became a major military power and Dr Kalam became popularly known as the “Missile Man of India”.

Agni-I during a test flight on July 13, 2012


#5 Dr Kalam supervised the Pokhran-II explosions as the chief of DRDO

Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam served as the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and Secretary of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) from July 1992 to December 1999. The Pokhran-II nuclear tests were conducted during this period and Kalam played an intensive political and technological role in their success. Along with Dr. R. Chidambaram, the Director of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), he served as the chief coordinator in the planning of the tests. The Pokhran-II tests, a series of five nuclear bomb test explosions, were conducted at the Indian Army’s Pokhran Test Range in May 1998. The tests achieved their main objective of giving India the capability to build fission and thermonuclear weapons with yields up to 200 Kilotons. Exclusive media coverage during the event, made Kalam a household name in India and he became the best known nuclear scientist in the nation.

Shakti I Pokhran-II
Thermonuclear device Shakti I tested during Pokhran-II


#6 He served as the first Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government Of India

After his retirement from DRDO, Kalam was appointed as the first-ever Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the Government Of India from November 1999 to November 2001. Principal Scientific Advisor was a Cabinet rank position at the time and was largely created to assist scientific cross-sectoral synergy across ministries, institutions and the industry. During his service period, Dr. Kalam supervised committees making master plans regarding defence, agriculture, healthcare and information technology. Under this esteemed post, he was also responsible for evolving policies, strategies and missions for many developmental applications.

Abdul Kalam Bharat Ratna
Abdul Kalam receiving Bharat Ratna from President K. R. Narayanan


#7 Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam served as the 11th President of India

On June 10, 2002, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the then ruling party expressed their will to nominate Dr. Kalam for the post of President. On June 18, Kalam filed his nomination papers in the Indian Parliament. He went on to win the 2002 Indian presidential election with an electoral vote of 922,884 as compared to 107,366 votes won by Lakshmi Sahgal. Kalam was the first scientist to become the president of India. During his term as president, he was fondly called the People’s President because of his humility, integrity, vision; and his immense contribution to inspire and nurture the young minds of the nation. Dr. Kalam’s guidelines under the scheme of “Vision of 2020” to make India a developed country has been incorporated under plans of the Indian Government. After the expiry of his term and his unwillingness to contest the election for the second term, Pratibha Patil became his successor as the 12th president of India. Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam served as the 11th President of India from July 25, 2002 to July 25, 2007.

President APJ Abdul Kalam
President APJ Abdul Kalam


#8 He served in various educational capacities post presidency

After leaving office, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam opted to pursue the field of academics and delved deep into it. In one such pursuit, he joined the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Shillong, IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Indore as a visiting faculty. Dr. Kalam was also conferred with the honorary fellowship by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore on the occasion of completing its 100 years. Kalam became the chancellor of the reputed Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) in Thiruvananthapuram. IIST functions under the Department of Space, Government of India and is dedicated to the study and research of outer space. Moreover, Kalam served as professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University; taught information technology at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad; and taught technology at Banaras Hindu University. Apart from his academic ventures, he initiated a youth-centric program mass movement called “What Can I Give Movement” in 2012 with the main agenda to triumph over corruption and to create a compassionate society.


#9 He wrote the bestseller Wings of Fire

Dr Kalam had always encouraged the young population of India to develop the habit of reading and he penned down many inspirational books that always carried a message for his countrymen and addressed burning issues relevant to India. Some of his notable masterpieces are India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium (1998); Wings of Fire: An Autobiography of A P J Abdul Kalam (1999); Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India (2002); and Target 3 Billion (2011). Among these, Wings of Fire and Ignited Minds have been bestsellers. Wings Of Fire recount the journey of Kalam from an extremely humble background to becoming the President of India through optimism and hard work. The autobiography was first published in English; and has so far been translated and published in 13 languages including Chinese and French. Ignited Minds delves into the obstacles that are preventing India from rising up to the challenge of development.

Wings of Fire cover
Book cover of Wings of Fire by APJ Abdul Kalam


#10 Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1997

Dr Kalam was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1981 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1990 by the Government of India. These are the third highest and the second highest civilian awards in India respectively. He received the Padma Bhushan after the successful launch of SLV-III; while he received the Padma Vibhushan after the successful completion of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme. In 1997, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam received India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, for his contribution to the scientific research and modernization of defence technology in India. Kalam has received numerous other honours including Veer Savarkar Award (1998); Ramanujan Award (2000); King Charles II Medal (2007); International von Kármán Wings Award (2009); Hoover Medal (2009); and Von Braun Award (2013). Moreover, he has received 7 honorary doctorates from 40 universities. Apart from these prestigious accolades, in 2010, the United Nations declared October 15 as World Students’ Day to commemorate the birthday Dr. Kalam.

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