Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam usually referred to as A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, is an Aerospace engineer, professor, and chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. During his term as President, he was popularly known as the People's President. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honor in 1997.
Before his term as India's president, he worked as an aeronautical engineer with DRDO and ISRO. He is popularly known as the Missile Man of India for his work on development of ballistic missile and space rocket technology. Kalam played a pivotal organizational, technical and political role in India's Pokhran-II nuclear test in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by India in 1974.
He is currently the chancellor of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, a professor at Anna University (Chennai), a visiting professor at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, Indian Institute of Management Indore, and an adjunct/visiting faculty at many other academic and research institutions across India.
In May 2011, Dr. Kalam launched his mission for the youth of the nation called the What Can I Give Movement. Dr. Kalam better known as a scientist, also has special interest in the field of arts like writing Tamil poems, and also playing the music instrument Veena.
Abdul Kalam was born in Rameshwaram, presently Tamil Nadu, in India in 1931. He spent most of his childhood in financial problems and started working at an early age to supplement his family's income.
After completing his school education, Kalam graduated in physics from St. Joseph's College, Tiruchirapalli. He then graduated with a diploma in Aeronautical Engineering in the mid-1950s from the Madras Institute of Technology. As the Project Director, he was heavily involved in the development of India's first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-II).
Kalam joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 1958 and served as a senior scientific assistant, heading a small team that developed a prototype hovercraft. Defence Minister V. K. Krishna Menon rode in India's first indigenous hovercraft with Kalam at the controls. Kalam left the DRDO in 1962 and joined the Indian space programme.
At the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Kalam initiated Fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) activities; after a stint with the aerodynamics and design group, he joined the satellite launch vehicle team at Thumba, near Thiruvananthapuram, and soon became Project Director for Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3). The SLV-3 project culminated in putting the scientific satellite Rohini into orbit in July 1980. He was honoured with a Padma Bhushan in 1981.
Kalam then moved back into the Defence Research Complex at Kanchanbagh, as Director of Defense Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL). He refused to move into the bungalow allotted to the Director, preferring to stay in one of the eight suites in the Defence Labs Mess. The suite, with a small study and a tiny bedroom, was his home for the next decade.
Kalam was instrumental in the re-emergence of the DRDL. This was made possible, as Kalam and the then Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, Dr.V. S. Arunachalam (who brought him back to defence research), have always acknowledged, by the crucial role played by R. Venkataraman, who was Defence Minister. Kalam was asked to prepare a blueprint to make India a missile nation. After working with DRDL veterans for over six months, followed by consultations with Arunachalam, Kalam gave a proposal to Venkataraman. He provided a 5 missile development plan that was to be taken up one after the other. The defense minister suggested that Kalam and Arunachalam recast the plan in such a way as to develop all five missile types under one programmme. The time frame for these programmes was 10 years.
Out of these initiatives was born the guided missile programme, India's most successful military research task to date. Kalam's codenames for the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (I.G.M.D.P) five components were: Prithvi, a surface-to-surface battlefield missile; Nag Missile, an anti-tank missile (ATM); Akash missile, a swift, medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM); Trishul missile, a quick-reaction SAM with a shorter range, Astra an air to air missile and Agni, an intermediate range ballistic missile, the mightiest of them all. Trishul missile has the unique distinction of being capable of serving all three services.
In the new management structure of the Missile Programme, Kalam, as the Chairman of the Programme Management Board, delegated almost all executive and financial powers to five carefully selected Project Directors and kept himself free to address the core technology issues. The missiles went up more or less on schedule: Trishul missile in 1985, Prithvi in 1988, Agni in 1989 and the others in 1990.
Kalam was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1990. After 10 years in DRDL, he went to Delhi to take over from Arunachalam as Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister from July 1992 to December 1999. In Delhi, Kalam as head of the DRDO had to oversee other prestigious projects, such as the Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun and the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) projects.
Pokhran-II nuclear tests were conducted during this period and have been associated with Kalam although he was not directly involved with the nuclear program at the time.