The journey of A P J Abdul Kalam as a space scientist began in early 1960s at Thumba, a coastal village near here, which housed India’s first rocket launcher, Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launcher.
Kalam was one of the few young scientists sent by Dr Vikram Sarabhai for training of ‘sounding rockets’ at the National Aeronautics Space Agency in the US. When he reached Thumba in 1964, Kalam had little to fall back on.
He had converted a cattle shed at this coast into a laboratory to work on sounding rockets.
In those days, even rocket parts and payloads were transported by bicycle. Kalam, who was not a cyclist, used to hitch a ride with his former colleague R Aravamudan, who was also handpicked by Vikram Sarabhai.
Later, Kalam played a key role in transforming the equatorial rocket launcher station into a hub of space technology, when it was renamed Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre after Sarabhai’s death in 1971.
At VSSC, one of the major tasks fulfilled by Kalam was to design, develop and build a satellite launch vehicle called SLV3 to put India’s first satellite, Rohini, into the earth orbit. When the Rohini satellite was successfully launched in 1980, Kalam, as project director, took India into an exclusive member of the Space Club.
He worked at VSSC until 1982, when he moved to the DRDO.