Remembering late APJ Abdul Kalam, India’s missile man

“If you want to shine like a sun, first burn like a sun” — APJ Abdul Kalam

A prominent Indian scientist and a visionary, popularly known as the “missile man”, late APJ Abdul Kalam served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. Born on October 15, 1931 in a Muslim family as Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam in Rameswaram, then in the Madras Presidency of British India, Kalam hailed from a humble background. Kalam’s father Jainulabdeen was a boat owner, his mother Ashiamma was a house wife and Kalam had four elder siblings.

Kalam graduated from the Madras Institute of Technology in 1957 and started his career as a scientist in 1958 with the Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Since then, there was no looking back, and Kalam masterminded the production of a number of successful missiles including Prithvi missile in 1988, and the Agni missile in 1989 thereby earning the name “missile man”. He gained immense recognition and became a household name in India following his contribution to the Pokhran-II nuclear tests. Kalam assumed office as the 11th president of India on July 25, 2002. Having remained active all his life, Kalam succumbed to a cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture at IIM-Shillong on July 27, 2015 at the age of 83.


  1. In the 1960’s, APJ Abdul Kalam designed a small hovercraft at DRDO, while working with the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) under the space scientist Vikram Sarabhai.
  2. He was transferred to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) from the DRDO in 1969.
  3. Kalam returned to DRDO to lead the project the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme as the Chief Executive of the IGMDP in 1983.
  4. In the 1970’s Kalam helped develop the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) which was successfully launched on September 20, 1993.
  5. Kalam made significant contributions to the production of a number of successful missiles such as Prithvi missile in 1988, and Agni missile in 1989.
  6. In 1992, Kalam was appointed as the scientific adviser to the defense minister in 1992.
  7. In 1999, Kalam was appointed as the principal scientific adviser to the Government of India with the rank of cabinet minister.
  8. Kalam played a key role in conducting the Pokhran-II, a series of five nuclear bomb test explosions at the Indian Army’s Pokhran Test Range in May 1998.
  9. In 1998, Kalam proposed a plan called the Technology Vision 2020 proposing several suggestions, such as technological innovations, nuclear empowerment and improved agricultural productivity.
  10. In 2002, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominated Abdul Kalam for the President of India.
  11. On July 25, 2002, Kalam assumed office as the 11th President of India on becoming the first scientist to assume the office.
  12. After leaving the presidential office, Kalam ventured in the academic field, and became a visiting professor in many top ranked institutions such as the IIM-Shillong, IIM-Indore and IIM-Ahmedabad. Kalam also wrote extensively and launched many initiatives for youth development such as the “Wings of Fire” and “India 2020” which have motivated millions of Indians.
  13. Kalam also taught information technology at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, and technology at the Banaras Hindu University and Anna University.

Awards and honours

Kalam was a recipient of several awards and honours during his lifetime, including:

  • Padma Bhushan in 1981, Padma Vibhushan in 1990 and Bharat Ratna in 1997.
  • Honorary doctorates from over 40 universities worldwide.
  • King Charles II Medal of the Royal Society UK in 2007.
  • International von Karman Wings Award of the California Institute of Technology in 2009.
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