When Abdul Kalam failed?

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam would rarely finish a speech without a quote about failure. "F.A.I.L. stands for the First Attempt In Learning," he would recite to cheering crowds of students. He has talked about dealing with failure in multiple interviews, with personal anecdotes. He attributed his learning in this regard to his one-time boss and the Indian space legend, Satish Dhawan.

In an interview given in 2008, he narrates an experience from the 1970s. Dr. Kalam took over as the mission director for launching the Rohini series satellites in 1973. After working for six long years, the team - comprising hundreds of technical staff - prepared for the launch in 1979 at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh.

As the countdown rolled down, the system sent an alert about an impending component failure in the rocket system. "After consulting with my experts, I decided to bypass the system and proceed with a manual launch," Dr. Kalam said in the 2008 interview. The launch failed.

"So many people had worked hard for years and instead of putting the satellite in orbit, the rocket went into the Bay of Bengal." Dr. Kalam panicked about breaking this news to his superiors and the media. "National and international media were waiting eagerly at the launch base to hear updates from us. They wanted to know if we had succeeded," he recalled in the interview.

"And then the great man came to me- Prof. Satish Dhawan, who was then the chairman of ISRO. He took me with him to the press conference. I was tired... our intense work over the past several months had failed. I knew how to handle success but I did not know how to handle failure," he admits in the interview. The events that happened subsequently would leave a mark on Dr. Kalam for the rest of his life.

"I was really afraid of being blamed for the failure of the mission. After all, I was the mission director. But at the press conference, Prof. Dhawan took the blame on himself. He told the media, "Dear friends, we have failed today. But we will soon return with success." He assured the media that within a year, the mission would be completed." The team kept his word. The subsequent launch on July 18, 1980 was successful. The nation was jubilant, celebrating ISRO's achievement. "But this time, Prof. Dhawan refused to accompany me to the press conference. He told me to handle it," said Dr. Kalam. "That was the mark of a true leader. When we failed, he came to our rescue and supported us. He took the blame for failure. But when we succeeded, he shared the credit with the team." The experience helped Dr. Kalam to face failures in future.


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What is Avatar?

AVATAR is an acronym for “Aerobic Vehicle for Hypersonic Aerospace Transportation”.

It is a single stage reusable space plane which is capable of horizontal take-off and landing. It is an unmanned spacecraft. DRDO is working on it. This can make satellite launches much cheaper as they can take off from conventional airfields. AVATAR’s liquid air cycle engine collects air on the way up, liquefies it, separates oxygen and stores it on board for flight beyond the atmosphere. AVATAR was first announced in May 1998 at the Aero India 98 exhibition held at Bangalore.

AVATAR was a follow up on the 'Hyperplane', a dream project of Dr. Kalam in the 1980s. The Hyperplane projects failed due to their immense weight. AVATAR weighs only 25 tonnes. And 60 per cent of it is liquid hydrogen fuel. It can launch satellites weighing one tonne!

The AVATAR design has been patented in India. Applications for registration of the design have been filed in patent offices in the US, Germany, Russia and China.

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What is the theme of the movie I Am Kalam?

I Am Kalam is about a poor boy who dreams big and wants to study. It was produced in 2011 by the non-governmental charity, Smile Foundation. Its theme is the right to education for the underprivileged.

Chhotu (Harsh Mayar) works in a roadside eatery in Rajasthan. There is a grand resort just next to it.

While making tea, washing dishes and peeling vegetables, the little boy dreams of wearing a tie, going to school and becoming an officer.

He then gets a chance to see the Republic Day parade and Dr. Kalam taking the salute. He is very interested and finds out more about Dr. Kalam. He decides to become like him and calls himself Kalam.

The story progresses and then his friend Rannvijay’s father agrees to pay for Chhotu's education in the same school that Rannvijay goes to. And his mother is given work in the resort.

The last scene ends with both friends boarding the school bus in their school uniforms.

I Am Kalam was released on Indian screens on August 5, 2011. The movie was specially screened for Dr. Kalam at his Delhi residence. Harsh Mayar bagged the award for Best Child Artist the same year in the National Film Awards. He won it along with two other children.

The film was directed by Nila Madhab Panda.

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Have you heard about Mount Kalam?

There is a story behind this mountain which is named after Kalam.

In October 2015, two adventure enthusiasts Arjun Vajpai and Bhupesh Kumar climbed a peak in the Himalayas which was 6180 m above sea level. No one had explored this peak till then. It overlooked the Spiti Valley.

They hoisted the Indian flag there, celebrating their joy. They named it Mount Kalam to inspire young mountaineers.

The climb is dangerous as snow covers the deep crevasses that are hidden beneath. We get a terrific view of the Himalayan landscape from the altitude of 19,000 feet.

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Where is the Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Memorial located?

Kalam’s memorial, as you might guess, is located in Rameswaram, his native place. He was also buried here in a plot of about 2 acres.

At the entrance of the memorial, you can see a statue of Kalam playing the Veena. There are also two smaller statues of Kalam in sitting and standing positions.

There are four halls which display replicas of rockets and missiles. There are also paintings which show his involvement with the DRDO and ISRO.

The memorial is a blend of Indian and Mughal engineering. The entrance looks like the India Gate and you can spot a Chetptinad style door. The main dome looks like the one on Rashtrapati Bhavan.

This structure is built with material brought in from all over India. It's the image of a nation coming together. The yellow stones came from near Pakistan. The sand and other items came from different parts. Each stone there has its own story to tell. This is to honour Kalam’s vision of a united India whose diversity he appreciated.

The whole structure has an area of 1,425 sq. metres.


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Is a microbe named after Dr. Kalam?

You may be tempted to call this microbe an extra-terrestrial being as it has been found only on the International Space Station (ISS)!

Scientists at NASA have named this bacteria after Dr. Kalam.

Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the foremost lab of NASA, found it in the ISS filters and named it Solibacillus kalamii in honour of Dr. Kalam.

The filter on which the new bug was found remained onboard the ISS for 40 months. This filter, called as HEPA filter, is highly efficient and removes particles which are very minute from the surroundings. HEPA is an acronym for High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance.  Arrestance measures the ability of the filter to remove dust.

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What is the Hoover Medal? Did Dr. Kalam receive it?

As the name suggests, the Hoover Medal is an American award. It was established in 1929 and has been given since 1930. Engineers can bag this award if their work has helped the human race.

The award is named after the first engineer who received it, Herbert Hoover, who was also the 31st President of the United States. Kalam received it in 2008.


The prize is given jointly by these institutions which administer it:

  1. American Institute of Chemical Engineers
  2. American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers
  3. American Society of Civil Engineers
  4. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
  5. American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)

It is given to engineers who have worked professionally and personally for the well-being of mankind.

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Did Dr. Kalam receive the King Charles II Medal from the Royal Society?

Kalam is the second person in the world to receive the prestigious King Charles II Medal awarded by the Royal Society, which is an in dependent scientific academy in the U.K.

King Charles II Medal is a silver-gilt medal and was instituted in 1997. It is presented only to foreign heads of state who have notably contributed to scientific research in their country.

The first award was given to Emperor Akihito of Japan in 1998.

For Kalam, the award was an honour “to India and its people.”

Lord Martin Rees, the President of the Royal Society of England, praised Kalam for leading India in its scientific and technological development. Kalam’s role was crucial in India’s transit into a developed nation.

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What are the specialities of the plant Drypetes kalamii that is named after Dr. Kalam?

Drypetes kalamii is a new plant species discovered by the Botanical Survey of India (BSI). Drypetes kalamii is found mostly in Buxa and Jaldapara National Parks in West Bengal. It has been named after Kalam and is closely related to a medicinal plant known as 'Putrajivah' in Sanskrit.

Drypetes kalamii is a small shrub, found in wet and shaded areas of subtropical, moist semi-evergreen forests. They are found at heights of 50-100 metres. It has pale yellow flowers in clusters and bright orange to red fruits.

This is a “Critically Endangered” plant as per the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Forest fires and grazing are the possible threats which harm Drypetes kalamii.

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Did Wheeler Island have a special place in Kalam's mind?

Kalam lovingly called Wheeler Island as his "Theatre of Action". There is a long story behind Wheeler Island and its connection with Kalam. "Ignited Minds: Unleashing the power within India" tells us what happened.

Kalam was the first director of the Integrated Test Range in 1982. He was successful with the demonstration of the Prithvi missile in 1993. DRDO needed a land range to conduct the final test to check out any possible errors. They ruled out its desert range in Rajasthan due to safety and political issues. They said 'no' to the Andaman and Nicobar

Islands as they were too far away from the mainland.

They wanted a quiet island off India's east coast. It was Kalam who noticed the three small islands on the map which the Indian Navy gave to DRDO. These were near Dhamra in Odisha. The names on the map were interesting! Long Wheeler, Coconut Wheeler and Small Wheeler!

Kalam then sent scientists Dr V.K. Saraswat and Dr S.K. Salwan to locate the islands. But they could not find the islands and got lost. Luckily, they chanced on some fishing boats. The fishermen did not know of Wheeler Island but gave them directions to go to another island "Chandrachood."

When the scientists reached there, they understood that "Chandrachood" was actually Small Wheeler Island. They found it suitable for missile testing and had to spend the night there. They had only bananas to eat.

Kalam got clearance from the then defence minister and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to acquire the island. He wrote to the then Odisha chief minister Biju Patnaik for permission to use the islands. Patnaik agreed on the condition that Kalam should make a missile that would reach China! Kalam gave his word to the CM.

Thus the islands were leased for 99 years to DRDO by the Odisha government. It was here that Prithvi was first successfully tested on November 30, 1993.

After reading this, you will probably want to visit Wheeler Island, now renamed Abdul Kalam Island. Sorry, but only DRDO and Defence Ministry officials are permitted to go there!

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Is there an island named after Dr. Kalam?

Yes, for sure. We do have Dr. Abdul Kalam Island and it is off the coast of Odisha. It was earlier named after an officer in the army of the English East India Company, Sir Hugh Wheeler. The island was renamed on September 4, 2015 to honour Dr. Kalam. It is around 150 kilometres from Odisha’s capital Bhubaneshwar.

We have an Integrated Test Range to test missiles here. Many missiles such as Akash, Agni, Astra, BrahMos, Nirbhay, Prahaar, Prithvi, Shaurya Missile, Advanced Air Defence, Prithvi Air Defence and ASAT missiles were tested here. It is one of the key missile testing facilities in India.

Abdul Kalam Island is close to the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary. This is the world's largest rookery of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle. Turtles love to nest on these sandy beaches. But the bright lights at the missile testing facility misguided some baby turtles! Attracted by the lights they could not find their way to the sea. Some of them died. So, all the lights at the facility are dimmed during nesting season. Missile testing is also cut down during the turtles' nesting and breeding season.

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What is PURA?

The idea of this programme is to create economic opportunities in rural areas by supplying urban infrastructure and services. It is a Rural Development Programme suggested by Dr. Kalam in ‘Target 3 Billion’ to develop India.

The origins of PURA can be traced in the work done by Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute in the early 1990s on energy self-sufficiency at the taluka level.

First Dr. Kalam insists on building good roads in rural areas for physical connectivity. Then, electronic connectivity by way of communication networks. Finally, he recommends knowledge connectivity through setting up professional and technical institutions.

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What is the essence of Dr. Kalam's book 'Target 3 Billion'?

In this book Dr. Kalam focuses on the rural areas. He highlights the problems in rural India and talks on how to improve living standards there.

Dr. Kalam sites the examples of Palmeres and Magarpatta. Palmeres, a rural district in Brazil became prosperous through rural electrification. A person called Fabio Rosa was behind this. Another case is that of Magarpatta, Pune. It is the first project in India in which farmers pooled their land and created a township. The city is home to over 35,000 people and even has an IT park. He also suggests a rural development programme called PURA in this book.

This book was jointly written by Dr. Kalam and Srijan Pal Singh.

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Which are the major awards received by Dr. Kalam?

Dr. Kalam was the recipient of numerous national and international awards. Their list is really lengthy. Let us briefly look at how his own mother country venerated him.

He was honoured with Padma Bhushan in 1981 and Padma Vibhushan in 1990. He also received India’s highest honour Bharat Ratna for his research and defence related work, and Outlook magazine ranked him as Second Greatest Indian in 2012.

Coming to his own state, Tamil Nadu, his death anniversary is observed as Youth Renaissance Day there. Further, the Abdul Kalam Award is given every year on the occasion of Independence Day from 2015 onwards. This carries a certificate, a gold medal and a whopping fifty thousand rupees.

On his 84th birth anniversary, October 15, 2015, a postage stamp in Dr. Kalam’s memory was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at DRDO Bhawan in New Delhi.

After Dr. Kalam’s death, several educational and scientific institutions were renamed after him.

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What is Dr. Kalam’s book ‘India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium’ all about?

‘India 2020’ was written in 1998 before Dr. Kalam became the President of India. Here we can read his ideas for India’s future and development. After analysing India’s strengths and weaknesses, he gives a vision of how we could be among the top four economic powers by 2020.

The importance Dr. Kalam gave to the ideas of school children is obvious. The book is dedicated to a ten-year-old girl whom he met during one of his talks. When asked about her ambitions, the young girl replied, "I want to live in a developed India."

For Dr. Kalam, India was already a knowledge super power and a nation awaiting its time. He then describes his vision of India, its future and those of other developed countries.

He even compares the statistical data to show how India can progress. Dr. Kalam never forgets to say how his field -science and technology- is crucial for this.

The book is co-authored by Dr. Kalam and Y.S Rajan and has been translated into many languages.

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