The School with Vision and Mission

A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (15 October 1931 – 27 July 2015) was an Indian aerospace scientist and statesman who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. He was born and raised in RameswaramTamil Nadu and studied physics and aerospace engineering. He spent the next four decades as a scientist and science administrator, mainly at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and was intimately involved in India’s civilian space programme and military missile development efforts.


As a result of his contributions to the development of ballistic missile and launch vehicle technology, he became known as the Missile Man of India. He also played a critical organizational, technical, and political role in India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, the first since India’s first nuclear test in 1974.


Kalam was elected as the 11th president of India in 2002 with the support of both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the then-opposition Indian National Congress. Widely referred to as the “People’s President” After a single term, he returned to his civilian life of education, writing, and public service. He received several prestigious awards, including India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.


Kalam collapsed and died from an apparent cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management Shillong on July 27, 2015, at the age of 83. Thousands of people, including national dignitaries, attended his funeral in Rameswaram, where he was buried with full state honors.

Early life and education

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born on October 15, 1931, to a Tamil Muslim family in Rameswaram on Pamban Island, then in the Madras Presidency and now in the State of Tamil Nadu. His father, Jainulabdeen Marakayar, was a boat owner and the imam of a nearby mosque, and his mother, Ashiamma, was a housewife.

His father owned a ferry that transported Hindu pilgrims between Rameswaram and the now-deserted Dhanushkodi. Kalam was the youngest of five siblings, with four brothers and one sister. His ancestors were wealthy Marakayar traders and landowners, with a large number of properties and large tracts of land. Despite the fact that his forefathers were wealthy Marakayar traders, the family had lost most of its fortunes by the 1920s and was impoverished by the time Kalam was born.

His father owned a ferry that transported Hindu pilgrims between Rameswaram and the now-deserted Dhanushkodi. Kalam was the youngest of five siblings, with four brothers and one sister. His ancestors were wealthy Marakayar traders and landowners, with a large number of properties and large tracts of land. Despite the fact that his forefathers were wealthy Marakayar traders, the family had lost most of its fortunes by the 1920s and was impoverished by the time Kalam was born.


Marakayar are a Muslim ethnic group who claim descent from Arab traders and local women in coastal Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Their business had included trading groceries between the mainland and the island, as well as transporting pilgrims between the mainland and Pamban. As a child, he had to sell newspapers to supplement his family’s meagre income. However, with the opening of the Pamban Bridge to the mainland in 1914, the businesses failed, and the family fortune and properties, aside from the ancestral home, were lost over time.


Kalam had average grades in school but was described as a bright and hardworking student with a strong desire to learn. He studied for hours, especially mathematics.  After graduating from the Schwartz Higher Secondary School in Ramanathapuram, Kalam went on to Saint Joseph’s College in Tiruchirappalli, which was then affiliated with the University of Madras, where he earned a degree in physics in 1954.  In 1955, he moved to Madras to study aerospace engineering at Madras Institute of Technology. 

Early life and education

After graduating from the Madras Institute of Technology in 1960, Kalam joined the Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (by Press Information Bureau, Government of India) as a scientist after becoming a member of the Defence Research & Development Service (DRDS). He started his career by designing a small hovercraft, but remained unconvinced by his choice of a job at DRDO.


Kalam was also part of the INCOSPAR committee working under Vikram Sarabhai, the renowned space scientist. In 1969, Kalam was transferred to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) where he was the project director of India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) which successfully deployed the Rohini satellite in near-earth orbit in July 1980; Kalam had first started work on an expandable rocket project independently at DRDO in 1965. In 1969, Kalam received the government’s approval and expanded the programme to include more engineers.


In 1963 to 1964, he visited NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and Wallops Flight Facility. Between the 1970s and 1990s, Kalam made an effort to develop the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and SLV-III projects, both of which proved to be successful.


Kalam was invited by Raja Ramanna to witness the country’s first nuclear test Smiling Buddha as the representative of TBRL, even though he had not participated in its development. In the 1970s, Kalam also directed two projects, Project Devil and Project Valiant, which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme.

Despite the disapproval of the Union Cabinet, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi allotted secret funds for these aerospace projects through her discretionary powers under Kalam’s directorship. Kalam played an integral role convincing the Union Cabinet to conceal the true nature of these classified aerospace projects.


His research and educational leadership brought him great laurels and prestige in the 1980s, which prompted the government to initiate an advanced missile programme under his directorship. Kalam and Dr V S Arunachalam, metallurgist and scientific adviser to the Defence Minister, worked on the suggestion by the then Defence Minister, R. Venkataraman on a proposal for simultaneous development of a quiver of missiles instead of taking planned missiles one after another. R Venkatraman was instrumental in getting the cabinet approval for allocating ₹ 3.88 billion for the mission, named Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) and appointed Kalam as the chief executive.


Kalam played a major part in developing many missiles under the mission including Agni, an intermediate range ballistic missile and Prithvi, the tactical surface-to-surface missile, although the projects have been criticized for mismanagement and cost and time overruns.

Awards and honours

Kalam received 7 honorary doctorates from 40 universities. The Government of India honored him with the Padma Bhushan in 1981 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1990 for his work with ISRO and DRDO and his role as a scientific advisor to the Government. In 1997, Kalam received India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, for his contribution to the scientific research and modernisation of defence technology in India. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Von Braun Award from the National Space Society “to recognize excellence in the management and leadership of a space-related project”.

In 2012, Kalam was ranked number 2 in Outlook India’s poll of the Greatest Indian.

Following his death, Kalam received numerous tributes. The Tamil Nadu state government announced that his birthday, 15 October, would be observed across the state as “Youth Renaissance Day;” the state government further instituted the “Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Award”, constituting an 8-gram gold medal, a certificate and ₹500,000 (US$6,300). The award will be awarded annually on Independence Day, beginning in 2015, to residents of the state with achievements in promoting scientific growth, the humanities or the welfare of students.

On the anniversary of Kalam’s birth in 2015 the CBSE set topics on his name in the CBSE expression series.

Researchers at the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) had discovered a new bacterium on the filters of the International Space Station (ISS) and named it Solibacillus kalamii to honour the late president Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. Several educational and scientific institutions and other locations were renamed or named in honour of Kalam following his death.

  • Kerala Technological University, headquartered at Thiruvananthapuram where Kalam lived for years, was renamed to A P J Abdul Kalam Technological University after his death.
  • An agricultural college at Kishanganj, Bihar, was renamed the “Dr. Kalam Agricultural College, Kishanganj” by the Bihar state government on the day of Kalam’s funeral. The state government also announced it would name a proposed science city after Kalam.
  • India’s First Medical Tech Institute named as Kalam Institute of Health Technology located at Visakhapatnam.
  • Uttar Pradesh Technical University (UPTU) was renamed A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Technical University by the Uttar Pradesh state government.
  • A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Memorial Travancore Institute of Digestive Diseases, a new research institute in Kollam city, Kerala attached to the Travancore Medical College Hospital.
  • A new academic complex at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala.
  • Construction of Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Science City started in Patna in February 2019.
  • A new science centre and planetarium in Lawspet, Puducherry.
  • India and the US have launched the Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellowship in September 2014. The first call for applicants was announced on Friday, 12 March 2016, for the fellowship which will enable up to 6 Indian PhD students and post-doctoral researchers to work with US host institutions for a period of 6–12 months. The fellowship will be operated by the binational US-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) under the Fulbright programme.
  • Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Planetarium in Burla, SambalpurOdisha was named after him.