For A P J Abdul Kalam, regarded as the father of the Indian missile programme, it has been a spectacular journey to the Rashtrapati Bhavan starting from a small village in south India.
After an unparalleled career as a defence scientist, the 71-year-old Bharat Ratna will take over from President K R Narayanan on July 25.
A strong votary of indigenisation, he is credited with building India's first satellite launch vehicle and being the architect of the country's successful missile programme.
Kalam's journey can be said to closely mirror that of independent India towards technological self-sufficiency.
Born on October 15, 1931 in the lower middle class family of a little educated boat-owner in Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, Kalam, in his early days, collected tamarind seeds, hawked newspapers and sold cigarettes to earn some pocket money and pay his school fees.
He had his school and college education at Rameswaram, Ramanathapuram and Tiruchirapally.
Kalam got his degree in aeronautical engineering from the Madras Institute of Technology.
What is not very well known is the personal tribulations that he had to go through to get that degree.
He began his career as a senior scientific assistant in the Directorate of Technical Development and Production (DTD&P-Air) in the defence ministry in 1958. He was assigned to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
After a five-year stint, he joined the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1963.
He secured a foothold in the highly rigid scientific establishment of the country only after being spotted by Prof M G K Menon and groomed by Dr Vikram Sarabhai.
He served as director of the Aerospace Dynamic and Design group at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre and later as director of the Launch Vehicles and Systems group at ISRO's headquarters in Bangalore.
He was responsible for evolution of the ISRO Satellite Launch Vehicle programmes, initiating the composite product technology and establishing the Reinforced Plastics Production Centre.
He has been involved with the development of India' main battle tank (MBT) - Arjun - and part of the prestigious Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) development project, both of which have not had much success.
As project director, he contributed to the design, development and management of India's first indigenous satellite launch vehicle (SLV) and putting the Rohini satellite into orbit.
Kalam has a special attachment for Hyderabad after having spent a decade as director of the DRDO beginning 1982.
He conceived and directed the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) as its chief executive.
The spectacular story thereafter has been well-documented. With the successful launch of a number of missiles, India became a member of an exclusive international club.
Under Kalam's stewardship, the DRDL successfully launched Prithvi (a surface-to-surface missile), Trishul (a short-range surface-to-air missile), Akash (a medium-range surface-to-air missile) and Nag (an anti-tank missile), apart from Agni (a long range missile with a nuclear option).
In the span of two decades, India was recognised as a technologically advanced nation in league with the best in the world.
His initiative - the advanced research centre called the Research Centre Imarat at Hyderabad - attracts talent from all over the country and is the hub of critical technology development in India.
Kalam is a strong votary of indigenisation. The Pokhran-II nuclear tests, which showcased India's technological capabilities, were largely the result of his efforts.
It was in DRDO, Hyderabad that he initiated a project for using the spin-offs of missile technology for medical purposes, an outcome of which was the Kalam-Raju stent for heart.
Kalam has been the recipient of a number of awards and accolades including doctorates from Anna, Jadavpur and Banaras Hindu Universities, IIT (Bombay), National Design Award of the Institution of Engineers, Biren Roy Space Award, the Om Prakash Bhasin award, National Nehru Award and Distinguished Professor of the Engineering Staff College of India award.
He has been associated with the Aeronautical Society of India, the Astronomical Society, Indian National Academy of Engineering and Indian National Academy of Science.
In recognition of his outstanding contribution, the government honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 1981, Padma Vibhushan in 1990 and finally, the nation's greatest honour - the Bharat Ratna - in 1997.
Kalam served as scientific adviser to the defence minister and as secretary, Department of Defence Research & Development from July 1992 to December 1999. He was chief scientific adviser to the Government of India till he demitted office in November 2001.
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