The first Friday in May is celebrated as the National Space Day across the country. The day marks the influence of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology in the efforts of space exploration. India has been one of the front runners when it comes to space exploration and technology. Being one of the few countries with launching capabilities, India has always challenged the norms and proven its proficiency in space exploration to the world. Be it cost-effective missions like the Mangalyaan or setting world records in the number of satellites launched, India is a hub for space tech.
National Space Day seeks to inspire the youth to take up higher education and pursue careers in the four fundamental fields that lend to space exploration, namely, science, mathematics, technology, and engineering. The Indian nation has also produced phenomenal personalities in these fields and here are some personalities from whom you can draw inspiration to pursue your space dreams.
When we talk about Indian Mathematics, Ramanujan is the first name that comes to mind. He is a very unique mathematician in his right as he had no formal education. Without a degree, it is surprising how he discovered some of the most intricate theories like the Ramanujan theta function and the mock theta functions. Ramanujan is widely known for his quick solutions to complex problems. Having no formal education, Ramanujan had a difficult time proving his theories until he started a postal relationship with leading British mathematician, G. H. Hardy. Hardy later invited Ramanujan to England where he further proved and invented new theories. Hardy once noted that the solutions that Ramanujan gave had often more than what met the eye. Ramanujan often attributed his mathematical genius to his household deity Namagiri. He is one of the youngest fellows of the Royal Society and is the first Indian to be elected as the Fellow of the Trinity College, Cambridge. Sadly, Ramanujan did not stay with us for a long time and in 1920 he passed away at the age of 32.
One of the most renowned mathematicians, Aryabhata is one of the most familiar ancient Indian mathematicians. Born in 476 CE, Aryabhata gained most of his education from the Nanda University which was the international hub for knowledge at his time. Aryabhata developed the theories of the Greeks and Mesopotamians coming up with groundbreaking discoveries in Mathematics and Astronomy. His mathematical works cover algebra, arithmetics, plane trigonometry, and spherical trigonometry. Aryabhatia, his work on mathematics is a literature that has survived to modern times.
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, a Bengali mathematician, and statistician are renowned for his work in Statistics and Anthropometry. His most renowned contribution to statistics is the Mahalanobis distance that gives the measure of how far a point P is from a distribution D. Mahalanobis is the founder of the Indian Statistical Institute and contributed heavily to the design of large-scale sample surveys. For his contribution, P. C. Mahalanobis is considered the father of Indian Statistics.
D. R. Kaprekar
Recreational Mathematics is a branch that focuses on utilizing mathematics for entertainment. As unusual as it sounds, D. R. Kaprekar is regarded as one of the best recreational mathematicians worldwide. He had no postgraduate education, worked as a school teacher, and worked largely alone. Some of his most notable works include Karpekar’s constant and he has described several classes of natural numbers like Karpekar, Harshad, and self numbers.
Born in Bijapur, Karnataka, Bhaskara II or Bhaskaracharya is probably the greatest Indian mathematician of ancient times. His work Siddhanta Shiromani (Crown of Treatises) laid the foundation for future works in many theories like arithmetic, algebra, spheres, and even the mathematics of planets. He is widely believed to be the first to conceive differential coefficient and differential calculus, centuries before Newton and Leibnitz.
Satyendra Nath Bose
A powerhouse in theoretical physics, Satyendra Nath Bose is one of the most prominent physicists that India produced. His work in quantum mechanics is unparallel and he collaborated with Albert Einstein to produce the Bose-Einstein Statistics and the Bose-Einstein Condensate, the fifth form of matter. Paul Dirac named particles that obey the Bose-Einstein statistics as Bosons in Satyendra’s honor. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 1954.
C. V. Raman
A prestigious student, C. V. Raman is a world-renowned physicist most popular for his discovery of a new scattering light effect or the Raman effect, named after him. But Raman was not just involved in Physics, he was also a prolific scientist in music. He worked out theories like the theory of transverse vibration of bowed string instruments and the wolf tones of violins and cellos. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the Raman effect and was the first Asian to do so.
Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose
The Bengali science fiction writer, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose is one of the greatest contributors to the field of radio and microwave optics and plant science. He was a pioneer in the first two fields and also laid the foundations for experimental research in India. He invented the crescograph, a device for measuring the growth of plants. He was given the title of Knight Bachelor in 1917 and even has a moon crater named after him.
The first woman to receive a Doctorate in Science from an Indian University, Asima Chatterjee was an Indian organic chemist noted for her work in organic chemistry and phytomedicine. She has authored numerous works on medicinal plants found in the Indian subcontinent. Her most prominent contributions included works on vinca alkaloids, the development of anti-epileptic drugs, and the development of anti-malaria drugs. In 1975, she was conferred the Padma Bhushan for her contributions and even nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the President from 1982 to 1990.
What Mangal Mani has achieved for science can be done only by a few. Mangala Mani, a woman scientist of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) is the first Indian woman to stay in Antarctica for more than a year (403 days). She had been posted to the ISRO post in Antarctica, Bharati in November 2016 and stayed there for over a year. She had never experienced snowfall in her life and carried loads of equipment to do her research work. Truly an example of the grit in Indian women to succeed.
Sir M. Visvesvaraya
The 19th Diwan of Mysore, Sir M. Visvesvaraya is celebrated as the most prominent engineer of India under British rule. He has to his name various inventions like the irrigation system in the Deccan Plateau but his most important invention is the flood prevention system he implemented in Hyderabad. He also played a pivotal role in designing the project to prevent soil erosion in the Visakhapatnam port. Widely known as the “Father of the Modern Mysore State”, Sir M. V. was knighted as a Knight Commander of the British Indian Empire (KCIE) by King George V and also received the Bharat Ratna in 1955. His birthday is celebrated as Engineer’s Day in India.
Dr. Koti Harinarayana
“Father of the Indigenous fighter program in India”, Dr. Koti Harinarayana is the genius aviation engineer behind the Tejas, fighter jet. Dr. Koti developed the Tejas, fighter jet which late on was built by HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited). This came as a welcome relief for the Indian Air Force as their existing fleet of Mig-21 fighter jets was soon to become obsolete. His invention in the form of the light combat aircraft Tejas earned him the Padma Shri in 2002.
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
Growing up all of has have read about A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. Widely known as “The Missile Man” of India is remembered most for his efforts in inventing the PSLV and SLV-III projects. He also worked closely with Indira Gandhi for the development of ballistic missiles using the technology in SLV. In the 1980s an advanced missile program was also launched under his directorship. Kalam also served as the President of India from the period 2002 to 2007.
A retired Indian Engineering Service (IES), E. Sreedharan is widely credited with changing the face of public transport in India. Working as the managing director of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation he played a fundamental role in constructing the Konkan Railways and the Delhi metro. For his contributions, he was awarded the Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan by the Indian Government and the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by the French government. He was also included by Times magazine as one of Asia’s heroes.
This name is known to all Indians. The CEO of Google and Alphabet, Pichai is one of the best software engineers that India has produced. Completing his education from IIT Kharagpur, Pichai rose the ranks after joining Google in 2004 and became its Chief Operating Officer in 2015 and soon the Chief Operating Officer of Alphabet in 2019.
Known as the “Missile Lady”, Tessy Thomas is the first woman project head of a missile program in India. Tessy Thomas headed the team for the development of the Agni IV and Agni V missiles. She has now been appointed as the Director-General of Aeronautical Systems. She is also the recipient of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award.
Rajeshwari Chatterjee was one of the pioneers in the field of Microwave Engineering. Her life was filled with difficulty given the patriarchal society and difficulty for women to study abroad. Nevertheless, she was selected by the Government of Delhi as a “bright student” and given the scholarship to study at the University of Michigan. In her lifetime, Rajeshwari mentored 20 Ph.D. students, authored seven books, and wrote more than 100 research papers.
She is the leader of two of India’s most ambitious projects, the Chandrayan – 2 and the Mangalyaan mission. Responsible for the autonomy system for the lunar orbiter, she was the Mission Director for Chandrayan-2 and recently served as the Deputy Operations Director to India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, Mangalyaan. She is dubbed as the “Rocket Woman of India” and received the ISRO young scientist award by the then President, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.
The New Horizon mission, the probe sent to Pluto, is powered by the technology of Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan. She has designed the algorithm of the probe and the chip that runs the probe. She also explored machine learning and developed an indigenous technology of her own, Drawbridge: – which has become America’s fastest-growing company led by a woman.
Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany
Narinder Singh Kapany is one of the Unsung Heroes included by Fortune in its “Businessman of the Century” issue in 1999. He coined the term fiber optics and is regarded as the “Father of Fiber optics”. His works enabled the fast technology that we see today and in 2021, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan posthumously.
These personalities that you read about had a few things in common. They had the passion to learn and seek answers to the secrets of the cosmos. They wanted to lead their country as they searched the cosmos achieving feats that bedazzled the world. We should be proud to share our motherland with them and strive to be inspired by them. It is our duty that if space exploration or any of its subfields interest us then we should try our best to bring glory to our country in that field.