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  • Ares Rosakis (left) and Abdul Kalam
    Credit: Bob Paz
  • Ares Rosakis (left) and Yannick d'Escatha
    Credit: Bob Paz
09/15/2009 07:00:00

Two International Leaders Receive Caltech Aerospace Award

Former president of India and France's top space administrator recognized for their achievements in the field

Pasadena, Calif., Sept. 15, 2009- Two distinguished aerospace leaders are the recipients of the 25th annual International von Kármán Wings Award. Receiving the honor this year are Abdul Kalam, the 11th president of India and distinguished professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, and Yannick d'Escatha, chairman and chief executive officer of the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the agency responsible for shaping France's space policy.

"Along with their tremendous accomplishments in aerospace, this year's honorees are leaders in international collaboration, climate monitoring, and energy harvesting," says Ares J. Rosakis, chair of the Aerospace Historical Society, chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, and Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering at Caltech.

This is the 25th year that the International von Kármán Wings Award has been given by the Aerospace Historical Society (AHS), which is now apart of the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories at Caltech (GALCIT). The award has a rich heritage in the preservation of world aerospace history and the recognition of renowned aerospace pioneers and luminaries.

"GALCIT is proud and privileged to be the home of the Aerospace Historical Society," says G. Ravi Ravichandran, director of the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories and the John E. Goode, Jr., Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering. "It is an honor to give this award, named after the founding director of GALCIT and the founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to Abdul Kalam and Yannick d'Escatha."

Rosakis described Adbul Kalam as an "international leader and humanitarian who is honored and admired by the next generation" and Yannick d'Escatha as a "visionary who is using space and technology to bring about collaboration and peace."  

One example of the honorees' collaborative efforts is the Megha-Tropiques weather satellite, a joint project of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the French Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES).

The von Kármán Wings Awards will be handed out September 15 at a banquet on the Caltech campus and will be presented by Rosakis.

Previous recipients of the Wings Award include last year's winner, Northrop Grumman's chief technology officer Alexis Livanos; director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Charles Elachi; Kent Kresa, chairman of Caltech's Board of Trustees; TRW cofounder Simon Ramo; aerospace engineer Burt Rutan; and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

About Abdul Kalam:

Abdul Kalam, the 11th president of India, was born in 1931 in Rameswaram, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He attended the Madras Institute of Technology, specializing in aeronautical engineering. Dr. Kalam was the project director of India's first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III), which successfully propelled the Rohini satellite into near-Earth orbit in July 1980 and made India a member of the exclusive "space club."

After working for two decades in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and mastering launch vehicle technologies, Dr. Kalam took up the responsibility of developing indigenous guided missiles at the Defense Research and Development Organization as the chief executive of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. He was responsible for the development and operations of AGNI and PRITHVI missiles and for building indigenous capability in critical technologies through networking with multiple institutions. Dr. Kalam was the scientific advisor to India's defense minister and secretary and boosted the country's self-reliance in defense systems by advancing multiple mission projects, such as the Light Combat Aircraft.

Dr. Kalam became the 11th president of India in July 2002 and served for five years. He led the country in arriving at Technology Vision 2020, giving a road map for transforming India from its present developing status to a developed nation.

Dr. Kalam is a distinguished professor at the Indian Institute of Technology and has also authored a number of books, including Wings of Fire, India 2020:A Vision for the New Millennium and Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India. These books have been translated into many Indian and foreign languages.

Being one of the most distinguished scientists of India, Dr. Kalam has received honorary doctorates from 36 universities and institutions in India and abroad. The Royal Society of the United Kingdom has awarded to him the King Charles II Medal for Science and Technology.

About Yannick d'Escatha:

Yannick d'Escatha was born in 1948 in Paris, France. He graduated from École des Mines and École Polytechnique, where he became a professor and was the chairman of the board of trustees. He was internationally recognized for his research in solid, structural, and fracture mechanics.

In 1973, he became an expert advisor to the minister of industry on nuclear regulatory and research issues. D'Escatha was the administrator general of the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and chairman of the CEA Industrie Group. At CEA, he promoted astrophysics and global-change research and concentrated on the spin-off potential of the R&D activities.

Ares Rosakis (left) and Abdul Kalam
Credit: Bob Paz

He served as chief operating officer and vice president of Électricité de France from 2000 to 2003.

In 2003, d'Escatha was appointed chairman and chief executive officer of the CNES. He conducted an ambitious policy to restructure the French space agency. In addition, he secured the Ariane 5 launcher system and recently issued a report on future launch systems to the French prime minister. At CNES, he developed research and applications dedicated to global change. He led the CNES Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Control Center to successfully dock the European ATV with the International Space Station.

D'Escatha is an advocate for international space cooperation. He is responsible for creating large partnerships with the top spacefaring nations in Europe and with other international partners. In Europe, he provides leadership for the new European Space Policy by encouraging strong partnership between ESA and European Union institutions. He also provided the road map for the European Space Council during the French presidency of the European Union (2008).

D'Escatha received two distinguished awards from the Académie des Sciences. He is a member of the Académie des Technologies and served on a variety of French Applied Science and Technology Councils. The French Republic awarded him both the Commandeur de l'Ordre National du Mérite and the Officier de la Légion d'Honneur decorations.

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The research at the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories of the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT) has evolved over the past three-quarters of a century to include aerospace and biosystems engineering. However, the tradition of integrating basic experiments, theory, and simulations over a broad range of spatial and temporal scales continues to characterize its approach.

GALCIT faculty are highly visible in their fields and continue to garner numerous awards. GALCIT contains unparalleled experimental facilities in solids, fluids, biomechanics, propulsion, combustion, and materials, as well as unique large-scale computational capabilities.

Its educational emphasis is on the fundamentals and advanced diagnostics, with a view toward the future, of biomechanics, biopropulsion, micro and nanomechanics, space science, and space technology. GALCIT takes an interdisciplinary view of mechanics-fluids, solids, and materials-and its graduate training reflects this focus.

About Caltech:

Caltech is recognized for its highly select student body of 900 undergraduates and 1,200 graduate students, and for its outstanding faculty. Since 1923, Caltech faculty and alumni have garnered 32 Nobel Prizes and five Crafoord Prizes.

In addition to its prestigious on-campus research programs, Caltech operates the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the W. M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, the Palomar Observatory, and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Caltech is a private university in Pasadena, California. For more information, visit

Written by Jon Weiner