The Forefather of Indian Space Science and Engineering- Satish Dhawan

Satish Dhawan-The Forefather of Indian Space Science and Engineering

Satish Dhawan

Introduction and Early Life:

Not only the Father of Fluid Mechanics Study in India, but, Satish Dhawan was the key harbinger of Indian Aerospace Engineering study too. Born on 25th September, 1920, in Srinagar, he was primarily Educated in India. His father, Devi Dayal, was a very reputed judge at Lahore High Court (presently in Pakistan) of the then time. Satish Dhawan spent most period of his childhood in Kashmir and Lahore. He graduated in the year of 1938: a B.Sc. in Physics and Mathematics from the University of Lahore. But he did not stop his acquisition of knowledge there. He pursued and successfully completed Master of Arts in English in the year 1941. Still his thirst for learning did not quench, as he achieved Bachelor degree in Mechanical Engineering from the same institute in 1945.

Education Abroad:

Though Dhawan completed his course of study in India in the year of 1945, a new journey began for him. With the help of Indian Government, he went to the United States of America for further study. There he studied and obtained Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Minnesota, in 1947. He got his second MS degree in Aeronautical Engineering in the year of 1949 from California Institute of Technology. Once he finished earning Master degree (in two disciplines) there, he started his Doctoral research work in Mathematics as well as in Aeronautical Engineering under the able supervision of Hans W. Liepmann. He received his Doctorate degree in dual discipline in the year 1951 from California Institute of Technology.

Professional Career:

In the meantime his family members left Lahore and moved to New Delhi permanently, due to partition. Dhawan left USA in the year of 1951 and immediately joined Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Primarily he joined the institution as a Scientific Officer. By dint of his knowledge and virtue, he quickly got to head the Department of Aeronautical Engineering in 1955. For the first time in India, he set up boundary layers and high speed well equipped aerodynamics laboratory in IISc. As he continued his teaching as well as research work there, he became the Director of the same institute in 1962 and continued to be so till 1981. He was an immensely popular person among his students as well as his colleagues in IISc. There he also initiated the installation of supersonic wind tunnel, first of its kind in India. Simultaneously he discharged his responsibilities as the Chief of Indian Space program, during the period, quite diligently. He also served as the Visiting Faculty at California Institute of Technology during 1971- 1972.

The most crucial role Dhawan had played was obviously as the Chairman of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization). He was the chairman for the space agency for a decade, from 1972 to 1984, which allowed India to make significant strides in the space program. He was also a key figure in the country’s telecommunication satellite programme, which was another major achievement under his leadership. He spearheaded the country’s space programme during this period. His contribution to ISRO is immense. He had been a driving force behind the space programme, which has made India a space power. Under his potent guidance, ISRO had progressed a lot and he was the one for whom the run of modern Indian space science journey commenced. Even, the Rocket-Man of India, A.P.J Abdul Kalam had acknowledged Dhawan’s leadership quality. As the leader of ISRO, Dhawan had always defended his colleagues and other scientists and led from the front exemplarily during tough time, whereas staged them in front while celebrating any success of ISRO.

Dhawan had extensively worked on PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), INSAT (Indian National Satellite ), and IRS (Indian Remote Sensing). His phenomenal contribution in the field of boundary layer can be seen in a book by Hermann Schlichting, titled Boundary Layer Theory. He also headed Indian Space commission from 1972 till last day of his life. He always stressed on high quality research work at a very little cost.


As a true countryman  he had always served his nation as well as Indian Government at different time in the field of Space Science and several other technical fields. For his immense contributions in various fields he had been awarded with many National and International awards. The title of Padma Bhushan, third highest civilian award for any Indian, was conferred to him in the year of 1971. Ten years later in 1981 he received Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award by Indian Government. In 1999 he had been awarded with Indira Gandhi Award for National integration. In field of academics also he had been honoured with the Distuinguished Alumnus Award by Indian Institute of Science and California Institute of Technology also. Number of Indian Institutions have been named after him to commemorate his endeavour and success.


Satish Dhawan passed away at the age of 82, on 3rd January, 2002. He had left behind him a great legacy of Indian Space Research Study for the ages to come. As he had studied many a discipline of unique combination in his life, his works and success ask for development and progressive research in multiple fields, especially from budding Indian scientists and Engineers as well as from the international community of researchers.

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