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Satish Dhawan
Born(1920-09-25)25 September 1920
Died3 January 2002(2002-01-03) (aged 81)
Alma mater
Known forIndian space programme
AwardsPadma Bhushan(1971) Padma Vibhushan(1981)
Scientific career
FieldsMechanical and aerospace Engineering
InstitutionsIndian Space Research Organisation
Indian Institute of Science
California Institute of Technology
National Aerospace Laboratories
Thesis Direct Measurements of Skin Friction  (1951)
Doctoral advisorHans W. Liepmann
Satish Dhawan
Chairman, ISRO
In office
Preceded byM. G. K. Menon
Succeeded byUdupi Ramachandra Rao

Satish Dhawan (25 September 1920 – 3 January 2002) was an Indian mathematician and aerospace engineer, widely regarded as the father of experimental fluid dynamics research in India. Born in Srinagar, Dhawan was educated in India and further on in United States. Dhawan was one of the most eminent researchers in the field of turbulence and boundary layers, leading the successful and indigenous development of the Indian space programme. He succeeded M. G. K. Menon, as the third chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1972. The second launch pad of ISRO, Satish Dhawan space centre is named after him. He is greatly regarded as the man behind A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.[citation needed]

Early life

Satish Dhawan was born in a Punjabi Khatri family.[1] He was the son of Rai Bahadur Devi Dayal Dhawan, an MSc and LLB who joined the Punjab Civil Service and later became a sessions and district judge.[2]


Dhawan was a graduate of what is now called Punjab Engineering College in the city of Chandigarh in India, the Mughalpura Technical College in Lahore, Pakistan, undivided India, where he completed a Bachelor of Science in physics and mathematics, a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Arts in English literature. In 1947, he completed a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and an aeronautical engineering degree from the California Institute of Technology followed by a double PhD in mathematics and aerospace engineering under the supervision of his advisor Hans W. Liepmann in 1951.[citation needed]

Leadership in space research

Main article: Indian Space Research Organisation

In 1972, Dhawan became chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and secretary to the Government of India at the Department of Space.

APJ Abdul Kalam explained that in 1979 when he was the director of a Satellite Launch Vehicle, the mission failed to launch the satellite in the orbit. Instead, it was put into Bay of Bengal. Abdul Kalam's team knew that there was a leakage in the fuel of the system, but they hoped that the leakage was negligible, and thus they thought there was enough fuel in the system. This miscalculation led to the mission's failure. Satish Dhawan, being the chairman at the time, called Abdul Kalam and conveyed to the press; "We failed! But I have very strong trust in my team and I believe that next time we will definitely succeed". This surprised Abdul Kalam, as the blame of the failure was taken by the chairman of ISRO. The next mission was prepared and launched successfully in 1980. When this succeeded, Satish Dhawan told Abdul Kalam to attend the press meet without his presence. It was observed that when the team failed, he took the blame. But when the team succeeded, he attributed the success to his team, thus portraying the picture of an ideal leader.

Satish Dhawan was chairman of ISRO until 1984.

Director, IISc (1962–1981)

Dhawan joined as faculty at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, in 1951 and became its director in 1962. Although he was the head of the Indian space programme, he devoted substantial efforts towards boundary layer research. His most important contributions are presented in the seminal book Boundary Layer Theory by Hermann Schlichting. He set up the country's first supersonic wind tunnel at IISc. He also pioneered research on relaminarization of separated boundary layer flows, three-dimensional boundary layers and trisonic flows.[3]

Support of space research

Dhawan carried out pioneering experiments in rural education, remote sensing and satellite communications. His efforts led to operational systems like INSAT, a telecommunications satellite; IRS, the Indian Remote Sensing satellite; and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), that placed India in the league of space faring nations.[citation needed]


Dhawan died on 3 January 2002 in Bangalore.[4] In honor of his contributions, the satellite launch center in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, was renamed the Satish Dhawan Space Centre following his death. Satish Chander Dhawan Government College For Boys in Ludhiana is named after him.The Department of Mechanical Engineering Building at the Indian Institute of Technology, Ropar is also named in his honor as the Satish Dhawan Block. In 2019, the Uttar Pradesh Textile Technology Institute in Kanpur named its computer center the Prof. Satish Dhawan Computer Centre.


  • Visiting Professor, 1971–72
  • Chairman, Research council, 1984–93
  • President, 1977–1979
  • Chairman, 1972–1984
  • Chairman, 1972–2002


Personal life

Satish Dhawan was born on 25 September 1920 in Srinagar in the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (present-day Jammu and Kashmir, India) in a Saraiki Hindu family. His father came from Dera Ismail Khan,[7] and Satish Dhawan grew up in Lahore and Kashmir. He was married to Nalini Dhawan, a cytogeneticist, and his daughter Jyotsna Dhawan is serving as Senior Principal Scientist in the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.



  1. ^ Puri, Baij Nath (1988). The Khatris, a Socio-cultural Study. M.N. Publishers and Distributors. p. 129.
  2. ^ Rajesh Kochhar; Arun Grover (4 November 2020). "How Punjab did its bit for space programme". The Tribune. Retrieved 3 July 2024.
  3. ^ "Satish Dhawan : Legends of GALCIT". Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  4. ^ "Satish Dhawan passes away". The Hindu. 5 January 2002. Archived from the original on 11 June 2016. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  5. ^ "About IISc Heritage". Indian Institute of Science. Archived from the original on 15 August 2013. Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  7. ^ "My Father, Satish Dhawan". Indian Institute of Science. Retrieved 21 June 2020.
Government offices Preceded byM. G. K. Menon ISRO Chairman 1972–1984 Succeeded byU. R. Rao