Udupi Ramachandra Rao commonly known as Prof U R Rao or “The Satellite Man of India” was born on 10 March 1932 and passed away on 24 July 2017 at the age of 85 years. Prof U R Rao was an eminent Indian space scientist and when it comes to the list of top elite scientists who have contributed to India’s success in this field, he ranks amongst the likes of Vikram Sarabhai and Satish Dhawan.
It is because of Prof Udupi Ramachandra Rao that today even the most rural villages and isolated locations of India are connected via fixed telecommunication lines.
This article will discuss the biography of Udupi Ramachandra Rao in detail.
Udupi Ramachandra Rao Biography (Quick Glance)
|Full Name||Udupi Ramachandra Rao|
|Date of Birth||10 March 1932|
|Place of Birth||Adamaru, Karnataka|
|Caste||Madhwa Brahmin Hindu family|
|Nick Name||Ramudu, Rao Bhava|
|Also known as||The Satellite Man of India|
|Parents||Father – Lakshminarayana Acharya|
Mother – Krishnaveni Amma
|Children||Son – Madan Rao|
Daughter – Mala Rao
|Siblings||Brothers – Krishnamurthy, Vittal and Sripathi|
|School||Christian High School, Udupi, Karnataka|
|College||B.Sc. in Government Arts and Science College, Anantpur|
M.Sc. from Banaras Hindu University
Ph.D. at Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad
|Career||Assistant Professor at the University of Texas|
|Doctoral advisor||Late Vikram Sarabhai|
|Awards||Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and many more|
|Died on||24 July 2017|
|Death place||Indiranagar, Bangalore|
|Age at time of Death||85 years and 4 months|
Udupi Ramachandra Rao Age, Caste, Birth, Parents
Udupi R Rao was born on 10 March 1932 in Adamaru, a village in the Udupi district of the state of Karnataka, India in a Madhwa Brahmin Hindu family. His parents were Lakshminarayana Acharya and Krishnaveni Amma.
His father used to work in a hotel, whereas, his mother Krishnaveni was a homemaker. Udupi Ramachandra Rao had a very simple childhood, and he came from a very down to earth, yet a family with high moral values. However, due to Udupi’s quest for education and knowledge, his parents later moved on to Ballari, a city in the state of Karnataka, India, where Prof. Rao did his inter-junior course.
In one of his interviews in the year 2015, Prof U R Rao mentioned “I wanted to show people that even if you come from schools that are not in the mainstream district, you can still be an achiever,”
This was the kind of humility and determination Udupi was brought up with.
Udupi Ramachandra Rao Education
U R Rao did not come from a very well to do economic background since his father had average monthly income during that time. Hence, U R Rao could not graduate or complete his education from a high end university or a school. However, this did not deter him from doing what he always wanted to do as a child. In fact, Udupi Ramachandra Rao as a child got directly promoted to the fourth grade after skipping second and third during his primary education at Adamaru.
He completed his primary education near his village and secondary education from Christian High School, Udupi with flying colours.
In 1952, U R Rao completed his bachelors degree in science from University of Madras, Tamil Nadu. Without wasting any time, two years later in 1954, U R Rao pursued a master’s degree, again in science, this time from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. In the same year, Udupi received the opportunity of his life, which will later embed him as an icon in the space history of India.
During the year 1954, when U R Rao was looking for his PhD course, he had a few options.
Due to his excellent academics, he was offered a 200 rupees scholarship by famous scientists R. S. Krishnan and G. N. Ramachandran for PhD under them.
However, Dr Sarabhai offered him 100 rupees to join Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in 1954 as a doctoral student, and U R Rao did not hesitate, as he always wanted to study cosmic rays.
Six years later, for the study of diurnal and semi-diurnal variations of galactic cosmic ray intensity, U R Rao was awarded PhD from Gujarat University in 1960.
Interestingly, after completing his MSc, Udupi Ramachandra Rao aspired to serve armed forces as an emergency commissioned officer, but Vikram Sarabhai convinced him to conduct research.
Udupi Ramachandra Rao Career
Even though U R Rao unlike Vikram Sarabhai and Satish Dhawan did not go abroad to complete his education, as he did not have the means, that did not stop him to achieve new heights in his long and successful career ahead.
After completing his PhD, U R Rao worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge) from 1961-63.
Soon after this, from 1963-66, he started working as an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Dallas, US.
During this time, U R Rao also worked with NASA, conducting experiments on its Pioneer and Explorer spacecraft.
While at NASA, Prof U R Rao was conducting experiments to make their spacecrafts better and finer. These experiments were later going to be useful in study of cosmic rays and electromagnetic state of the interplanetary space.
In the year 1966, Dr Vikram Sarabhai, who was the then director of the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) invited one of his former PhD students at Physical Research Laboratories (PRL) Ahmedabad. This student was researching solar cosmic-ray phenomena while working with Pioneer space probes and Explorer satellites at MIT. This student was asked to return and head the satellite engineering team Vikram Sarabhai was putting together.
The enigmatic young man would later be hailed as India’s Satellite Man was Udupi Ramachandra Rao.
As a matter of fact, when Prof Udupi Ramachandra Rao took over the satellite program, he was the only one on the team to have ever seen a satellite.
In the year 1972, Prof U R Rao went to the Indian Institute of Science and asked the Director Satish Dhawan to provide him with students who were willing to learn rocketry science. It is reported that the average age of this team was around 25-26 years.
At that time, the satellite engineering team was divided between the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) near Trivandrum, and PRL in Ahmedabad.
However, during the same time, Vikram Sarabhai passed away, and the command for ISRO or INCOSPAR was passed to Satish Dhawan. Satish negotiated with the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to move ISRO to Bangalore.
This was a great opportunity for Udupi Ramachandra Rao who had spent a major part of his life there. However, the transition was not going to be easy, as the labour force at TERLS refused to allow any equipment to move out.
This meant, the team at Bangalore will now have to work with limited resources.
Later, the Karnataka government offered U R Rao and his team a few sheds at the raw Peenya Industrial Area, outskirts of Bangalore.
Due to the lack of facilities, Prof and his team used thermocol, vinyl, duct tape, etc to convert the roof shed into the clean room that was required to make the satellite.
The making of India’s first satellite “Aryabhata” took place in those same sheds from 1972 to 1975.
It was indeed an unbelievable miracle for ISRO and India, as no other country had built a satellite in under 3 years.
The schedule given to U R Rao to complete the project was 30 months. In spite of unavailability of proper infrastructure, an inexperienced team, his team was able to deliver the satellite in a record 36 months.
Just after the launch of Aryabhata, U R Rao with his team made over 18 satellites including Bhaskara 1 and 2, APPLE, Rohini, INSAT 1 and 2.
These satellites were used for providing communication, remote sensing and meteorological services, using which, we can now predict not just weather, but also foresee natural disasters and prepare in advance.
In fact, the total cost to produce INSAT 2B came up to be 78 crore, which would have easily been 300 crore, had India bought it from a foreign country.
It was only because of these INSAT satellites, distant telecommunication was made possible in remote areas of India.
Later on, India as a country became dependent on fixed landlines due to INSAT discovery.
This technology allowed people to communicate easily through Subscriber Trunk Dialing, also known as STD, instead of waiting for hours to get connected.
In 1985, Udupi Ramachandra Rao took command of the Space Commission as the Chairman, and Secretary of the Department of Space.
In 1991, he was involved in the making of geostationary launch vehicles (GSLV) and cryogenic technology. In 1992, he was involved in the launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
Due to a variety of valuable contributions such as telecommunication lines, launch of nationwide TV, radio broadcast services, Prof U R Rao is known as “The Satellite Man of India” and rightly so.
Prof. Udupi Ramachandra Rao is also credited with the setting up of ANTRIX Corporation in 1992, as a Marketing arm of ISRO for promotion and commercial exploitation of space products, technical consultancy services and transfer of technologies developed by ISRO.
As of today, ANTRIX Corporation provides hardware, software solutions, as well as unique space applications around the world and by doing this, they are an asset of more than 2,000 crores.
Udupi Ramachandra Rao Family: Wife and Children
Udupi Ramachandra Rao was married to Yashoda Rao, who is also a scientist.
Together, they have a son Madan Rao, who was born on 11 July 1960. Madan works as a faculty at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), located in Bangalore.
Madan is also an elected fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Indian National Science Academy. U R Rao and Yashoda’s daughter Mala Rao is an architect.
Udupi Ramachandra Rao Honours and Fellowships
Prof U R Rao was an elected fellow of several esteemed institutions such as the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Electronics and Telecommunications Engineers, International Academy of Astronautics, and Third World Academy of Sciences.
U R Rao also served as the General President of the Indian Science Congress Association from 1995-96. He was the Vice President of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) from 1984 to 1992.
In June 1997, Prof Rao was elected as the Chairman of the United Nations – Committee On Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and the UNISPACE-III Conference.
In April 2007, he was also elected as the Chairman of the 30th International Antarctic Treaty Consultative Committee Meeting in Delhi.
He was the first chairman of Prasar Bharati. Rao was the Fourth President of the Centre for Space Physics Governing Body in 2007.
Some other positions and fellowships held by Dr Rao were Chairman of Karnataka Science and Technology Academy, Chancellor Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow, Member Central Board of Directors, Reserve Bank of India, etc.
Udupi Ramachandra Rao Awards (National and International)
In a long and illustrious career, U R Rao had won many awards and accolades, not just in India, but on a global level too.
Some of his national awards were:
- Karnataka Rajyotsava Award (1975)
- Hari Om Vikram Sarabhai Award (1975)
- Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in the Space science & technology (1975)
- Padma Bhushan (1976)
- National Design Award (1980)
- Vasvik Research Award in the Electronic Sciences & Technology field (1980)
- Karnataka Rajyotsava Award (1983)
- PC Mahalnobis Medal (1987)
- Om Prakash Bhasin Award in the Energy & Aerospace field (1993)
- Meghnad Saha Medal (1993)
- P.C. Chandra Puraskar Award (1994)
- Electronics Man of the Year Award by ELCINA (1994)
- Zaheer Hussain Memorial Award (1995)
- Aryabhata Award (1995)
- Jawaharhal Nehru Award (1995)
- SK Mitra Birth Centenary Gold Medal (1996)
- Yudhvir Foundation Award (1997)
- Rabindranath Tagore Award of Viswa Bharati University (1997)
- Gujar Mal Modi Award for Science & Technology (1999)
- Nadoja Award from Kannada University, Hampi (2001)
- Lifetime Contribution Award in Engineering of INAE (2001)
- Sir M. Visvesvaraya Memorial Award (2002)
- Press Bureau of India Award (2003)
- Star of India Award from Vishwabharathy Foundation, Hyderabad (2004)
- Special Award 2004, Karnataka Media Academy (2004)
- Bharat Ratna Rajiv Gandhi Outstanding Leadership Award (2005)
- Life Time Achievement Award of Indian Space Research Organisation (2007)
- Distinguished Scientist Gold Medal of the Karnataka Science & Technology Academy (2007)
- Vishwamanava Award by Vishwamanava Samsthe (2007)
- A.V. Rama Rao Technology Award (2007)
- Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Award for 2007-2008 from ISCA (2008)
- Padma Vibhushan (2017)
Some of Prof’s international awards were:
- Group Achievement Award by NASA, USA (1973)
- Medal of Honour by Academy of Sciences, USSR (1975)
- Yuri Gagarin Medal of USSR (1991)
- Allan D Emil Award on International Cooperation (1992)
- Frank J Malina Award (International Astronautical Federation)(1994)
- Vikram Sarabhai Medal of COSPAR (1996)
- Outstanding Book Award of the International Academy of Astronautics for the Book Space Technology for
- Sustainable Development (1997)
- Eduard Dolezal Award of ISPRS (2000)
- Theodore Von Karman Award which is the highest award of the International Academy of Astronautics (2005)
- Inducted into Satellite Hall of Fame by Society of Satellite Professionals International’ (2013)
- Inducted into Hall of Fame by International Astronautical Federation (2016)
It was during this time, when Dr Rao also received Honorary Doctrine of Science from universities such as Mysore, Calcutta, University of Bologna, Italy, etc.
Udupi Ramachandra Rao Death
Prof U R Rao passed away on 24 July 2017 at 3 AM at his residence in Bangalore. He was suffering from age related health issues.
There are very few people in any community that have selflessly devoted their entire lives for the sake of the country’s advancement. This journey becomes a lot more difficult, when you are short and scarce on resources.
This is why, Late Prof U R Rao’s contributions can never be forgotten.