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Former President APJ Abdul Kalam Dies at 83

India’s Most Renowned Rocket Scientists

 

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, one of India’s most renowned rocket scientists who served as the nation’s 11th president, died of cardiac arrest on Monday at the age of 83.

The former President, who was in office from 2002 to 2007, had collapsed during the lecture at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong, around 6.30 pm. He was taken to the Bethany hospital. Doctors said he had suffered a massive cardiac arrest. APJ Abdul Kalam was brought to the hospital at 7 pm there was no sign of life. He was taken to ICU to try and revive him, which was futile.

“As a mark of respect to the departed dignitary, seven days of state mourning will be observed throughout India from July 27, 2015 to August 2, 2015, both days inclusive,” an official statement said. During the period of state mourning, the national flag will fly at half-mast on all buildings throughout the country where it is flown regularly and there will be no official entertainment. The date, time and venue of the state funeral will be intimated later.

APJ Abdul Kalam told TIME in a 1998 interview that he developed an early fascination with flight while growing up on the south Indian isle of Rameshwaram. “Then there were a lot of birds on the island,” he said, “and I used to watch their beautiful flight paths. That got me interested in aeronautics.”

APJ Abdul Kalam was born on October 15, 1931 into a middle-class family in Rameshwaram, a town well-known for its Hindu shrines in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. His father owned boats which he rented out to local fishermen, but he himself began his career as a newspaper vendor.

A bright student, his interest in flying led to a degree in aeronautical engineering, and eventually  supervising the development of India’s guided missile program. He then earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from a technology institute in Chennai (Madras). The former president was proud of his Indian education and liked to describe himself as “Made in India”, having never been trained abroad.

“His death is a great loss to the scientific community,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said. “He took India to great heights. He showed the way.” Indian President Pranab Mukherjee said: “Kalam would be long remembered for his passion for science and innovation and his contribution as an eminent scientist, administrator, educationist and writer.”

He was also the author of 10 books. His autobiography, Wings of Fire, written in 1999, had been a best seller.

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