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Man behind India's first satellite, former Isro chairman U R Rao dies at 85

Rao played a pivotal role in developing satellite technology in India

T E Narasimhan  |  Chennai 

Former Isro Chairman U R Rao passes away
Former Isro Chairman Udipi Ramachandra Rao. Photo:

Udupi Ramachandra Rao, an internationally renowned space scientist who had been at the forefront of developing space technology in India, passed away at the age of 85 in Bengaluru on Monday morning. He was the scientist who spearheaded the establishment of technology in the country and the launch of India's first satellite, Aryabhata, in 1975.

He had been diagnosed with a heart disease in the past and succumbed to the ailment in the early hours of Monday, according to reports. 

Born in Adamaru, Udupi, in Karnataka on March 1932, he completed his Bachelor of Sciences from Madras University in 1951. Subsequently, he finished his MS from Banaras Hindu University and his Ph.D. from Gujarat University.

He served as the chairman of the Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory's governing council and as the chancellor of the Indian Institute of Science and Technology at Thiruvananthapuram. He was the chairman of the Indian Organisation (Isro) from 1984 to 1994.

Rao made original contributions to the development of space technology in India and its extensive application in communications and remote sensing.

After working as a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he carried out investigations as a prime experimenter on a number of Pioneer and Explorer spacecraft, Rao returned to India in 1966 as a professor at the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad. 

In 1972, he undertook the responsibility of developing technology in India. Under his guidance, beginning with the first Indian in 1975, over 18 satellites were designed and launched for providing communication, remote sensing, and meteorological services, according to

After taking charge as the chairman of the Space Commission and as the secretary of the Department of Space in 1984, he accelerated the development of rocket technology, resulting in the successful launch of the ASLV rocket and the operational PSLV launch vehicle, which can launch a two-tonne payload into polar orbit. He initiated the development of the Geostationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and the development of cryogenic engine technology in 1991.

Rao has published over 350 scientific and technical papers covering cosmic rays, interplanetary physics, high energy astronomy, space applications, and and rocket technology. He has also authored many books. Rao is also the recipient of D.Sc. (Hon. Causa) Degree from over 25 Universities, including the University of Bologna, the oldest University in Europe, said

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan, which is the country's third-highest civilian award, by the Government of India in 1976 and the Padma Vibhushan, which is the second-highest civilian award, in 2017. He became the first Indian space scientist to be inducted into the highly prestigious "Hall of Fame" at Washington DC, USA, on March 19, 2013. He is also the first Indian space scientist to be inducted into the highly prestigious "IAF Hall of Fame" at Guadalajara, Mexico.

First Published: Mon, July 24 2017. 10:37 IST