The son of a modest craftsman manufacturer of boats of Muslim faith, he received pre-university training at two centers in his home state of Tamil Nadu, in the far south of the country, the Schwartz High School in Ramanathapuram and St. Joseph’s College in Tiruchi, where He graduated in Science in 1954. From there he went on to the Aeronautical Engineering program at the Madras Institute of Technology and, after three years of study, he did internships with propulsion engines at the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. company. In 1958 he received his engineering degree. and was ready to be recruited by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), an organization created that year by the Government of Jawaharlal Nehru to provide the Indian Army with new weapons systems in view of the prospect of armed conflicts with Pakistan and China. According to articles published by the Indian press, Kalam harbored the dream of becoming a fighter pilot in the Air Force, but he did not pass the selection tests, so at the end of his studies he opted for a scientific career in the military-industrial complex , where all the doors were open to him.
In the DRDO Kalam he developed a prototype of a hovercraft or hovercraft destined for the naval forces and that came to carry out a test drive with him at the controls and the then Minister of Defense, Krishna Menon, as a passenger, but the original project, which caused sensation abroad, did not convince the authorities and was abandoned. With this frustration, in 1963 Kalam was transferred to the engineering staff of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which sought to put the first artificial satellite of the young state into orbit.
Gaining first-hand knowledge at the US NASA facilities at Wallops Island and Langley, in 1964 Kalam joined ISRO’s rocket aerodynamics team at Thumba, near Trivandram, Kerala state, and soon He was appointed director of the project for the design, development and fine-tuning of the SLV-III (for Satellite Launch Vehicle), the first operational launcher for artificial satellites exclusively made nationally. On July 18, 1980, after a failed attempt the previous year, an SLV-III rocket put the satellite – also Indian – Rohini 1B into orbit from Shriharikota, marking a second milestone in the space race of the Asian country after the launch, on April 19, 1975, from the first national satellite, the Aryabhata, by a Russian vector.
Awarded for this success, in 1982 Kalam returned to the DRDO directly in the position of director general and took charge of an important strictly military program, the integral development of guided missiles (IGMDP), which contemplated the construction of five categories of this type of devices for various theaters of operations, the most powerful being the Agni, an intermediate-range ballistic missile conceived as the precedent for future generations of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Since its first secret detonation of an atomic bomb on May 18, 1974 in Pokhrán, in the Rajasthan desert, India was the sixth nuclear power on the planet, although not declared, therefore not officially appearing in the club of five nations. with this capacity (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and China).
In 1992 Kalam was requested by the Ministry of Defense to advise it on scientific matters and to head its Research and Development Department in New Delhi, a job he carried out until November 25, 1999, when his advisory service was elevated to the rank of minister. of the Cabinet, headed at the time by the conservative nationalist Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In May 1998, Kalam supervised the five underground nuclear tests in Pokhrán (one corresponding to a hydrogen bomb, according to the Government), which raised a great international stir for assuming the official confirmation before the nation and before the world of India’s nuclear status. . For the time being, there was automatic retaliation from Pakistan, which carried out its own atomic tests, also making its de facto nuclear status official.
Kalam, then the most prestigious and popular Indian scientist, has been enthusiastic about all these technological boasts, in an overpopulated country that still has overwhelmingly high levels of poverty, but not as a show of strength per se, but as the spearhead, as an instructive sample of national capabilities and inventiveness, of what would have to be a vast undertaking for the economic and social progress of the Indian people (often described as fatalistic and quietistic, among other peculiarities of their culture and religion), an optimistic vision of a developed India in all fields that he articulated in the India Millennium Missions 2020 manifesto.
The vivid image, with Einsteinian remembrance, of the jovial, modest and somewhat eccentric scientist, Kalam, with thick eyebrows bleached by gray hair and long hair of the same color, proclaims himself an Indian from all four sides who, despite his unmistakably secular demeanor and westernized, he devoutly recites the Islamic Koran and the Bhagavad Gita, the most popular of the sacred texts of Hinduism. Following the line of asceticism and detachment from the material, the award-winning engineer is a single man, a vegetarian and a teetotaler. In addition, he finds time to develop artistic interests, such as the writing of Tamil poetry and the musical practice of the veena, a string instrument similar to the sitar.
With this particular profile and once he retired as a government adviser on November 10, 2001 to dedicate himself to mostly academic work, Kalam was the man thought by Prime Minister Vajpayee to succeed him in the presidency of the most populous democracy in the world. After the main political forces agreed on his candidacy, on July 15, 2002, Kalam was inaugurated as the eleventh president since the establishment of the Republic in 1950 by a special electoral college made up of 4,896 deputies, those from the two chambers of the federal Parliament and those from the 28 state legislatures. His only opponent was the octogenarian Lakshmi Sehgal, an alternative candidate presented by the Communist Party. On July 25 he was sworn in for his term until 2007 in a ceremony that spared no pomp and solemnity. Before him, two other post holders were Muslim: Zakir Husain, in 1967-1969, and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, in 1974-1977.
Holder of an office with basically protocol and representative attributes, this secular Muslim is not expected to be able to significantly influence the domestic political course (except in situations of lack of a clear parliamentary majority, in which the president can decide to which party corresponds). form a government) nor in international politics. This, despite the fact that his election by Vajpayee constitutes, in the opinion of observers, a move of political correctness to placate the criticism of inaction received as a result of the religious pogroms in the months of March and April in the state of Gujarat, governed for his Bharatiya Janata Party, in which more than a thousand people died, most of them Muslims, and which have been the latest episode in a string of inter-community violence that has bloodied several regions of the vast country in the last decade. Precisely, in his inauguration speech, Kalam stressed the importance of safeguarding the concept of secularism as the cornerstone of the Indian State.
According to his official biography, the president of India is an honorary doctor of science and a fellow professor at more than 30 universities and academic institutions and has to his credit the most prestigious civil decorations in his country.