Internationally-renowned space scientist Professor Udupi Ramachandra Rao passed away at 2:30 AM on 24 July, as reported by The Times of India. He was 85. He is survived by his wife, Yashoda and his son, Mohan, who is also a scientist.
Rao’s death has left the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) bereft of the experience of a man who has been a part of all its launches in one capacity or another. The former (1984-1994) ISRO Chief was serving as the chairman of the governing council of the Physical Research Laboratory and the chancellor of the Indian Institute of Science and Technology at Thiruvananthapuram.
Born in Adampur village in Udupi, Karnataka, Rao had occupied several important positions in different international fora besides heading various crucial posts in India. He had won 10 international awards and many national awards.
Rao was mentored by the likes of Vikram Sarabhai and Satish Dhawan and soon proved to be of the same mettle as his gurus. His relentless dedication and a vision for future made Rao an inspiration for his contemporaries and juniors alike.
Rao is remembered for his tenure at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), among the several posts he has held.In May 2016, Rao became the first Indian to be given the ‘Hall of Fame’ award by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF).
He has been a part of the entire journey that India has made in space technology – from the launch of the Aryabhatta, India’s first satellite to the experimental flight of GSLV mk-III. Rao spearheaded India’s satellite programme after Vikram Sarabhai’s death, and it was under his direction and leadership that a team of young scientists — all aged 25 years launched India’s first satellite, ‘Aryabhatta’. Professor Rao, along with his colleagues, had just 36 months to conceive, design, build, and test the Aryabhatta satellite.
It was Rao who led the talks with USSR for the launch of India’s satellite on May 10, 1972. About 200 scientists were involved in the satellite team. After Aryabhatta, Rao went on to conceive the experimental remote sensing satellites, Bhaskara 1&2, Rohini D2 and technology satellites in the SROSS series the foundation for Indian Remote Sensing Satellites (IRS). He successfully delivered India’s first experimental communication satellite, Apple — the precursor to Indian National Satellites (INSAT) series. Rao was involved in developing payloads of Aditya mission to the sun.
Speaking to The Times of India, ISRO Chairman, K Kasturirangan said, “He had a vision so clear that such hurdles could not stop him. His command of science and ability to work through challenges is what paved way to such a grand satellite programme in the country.” This becomes clear when one notices the arduous efforts that Rao had taken to convince Indira Gandhi for greater investment in space programmes from the side of the government.
Still active in his work, Rao had called a meeting last week but which had to be chaired by Prof Roddam Narasimha because of Rao’s ill health. Prof Roddam had been a close associate of Rao in the initial years and had been related to him the entire life.
Rao was awarded the prestigious Padma Vibhushan award by the government of India on January 2017 – Rao had commented, “I thought I would get this posthumously.” He had also received Padma Bhushan in 1976.
Over 350 scientific and technical papers have been published by Rao, covering cosmic rays, interplanetary physics, high energy astronomy, space applications and satellite and rocket technology and authored many books. He is also the recipient of D.Sc. (Hon. Causa) Degree from over 25 Universities including the University of Bologna, the oldest University in Europe.
Rao has also headed several committees for Centre and state of Karnataka; his latest appointment was as chair of the committee entrusted to formulate new education policy for India.
The Logical Indian community is deeply saddened by the demise of a great personality like Prof Rao, whose invaluable contribution has placed India at the current position about its achievements in science. We sincerely hope the country remembers him and follows on his fulfilling the dream he had envisioned for India.