Dr Vasant Ranchhod Gowarikar was born in Pune on March 25, 1933. After his graduation in India, Dr Gowariker did his Master’s and Doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from Birmingham University, England. His collaboration with Dr FH Garner during the doctoral research resulted in the Garner-Gowarikar theory, which was a novel analysis of heat and mass transfer between solids and fluid.
During his stay in England from 1959 to 1967, he first worked in the (British) Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, and later at Summerfield, an organization engaged in the production of rocket motors. He also functioned as a member of the Outside Panel of Examiners of the Oxford and Cambridge Examination Board and also as an the external editorial staff of Pergamon, where he helped in editing several scientific books.
At the instance of Dr Vikram Sarabhai, Dr Gowariker joined the Space Centre at Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram in 1967 as Propellant Engineer. Later this Centre along with other space research establishments came under the umbrella of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in 1972; Dr Gowariker became Director of the Chemicals and Materials Group in 1973, and finally the Director of the Centre in 1979 and continued in that post till 1985. India’s first launch vehicle, SLV3, made its triumphant success during his tenure as Director, VSSC.
Dr Gowariker provided professional leadership in making the critical solid fuel technology for India’s launch vehicles totally indigenous and comparable to that in advanced countries. ISRO’s ‘Solid Propellant Space Booster Plant’ was set up over 5,500 acres of land under his leadership. All strategic raw materials are also researched, developed and produced in various plants set up under his stewardship.
Dr Gowariker was Secretary to the Government of India, Department of Science and Technology (DST) from 1986 to 1991. He also functioned as Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister from 1991 to 1993. One among the noteworthy contributions is the development of the first indigenous weather forecasting model for predicting monsoon precisely. This was operationalised under his leadership. He was appointed as Vice-Chancellor, Pune University and was chairman of the Marathi Vidnyan Parishad between 1994 and 2000. Gowarikar along with his associates, also compiled the Fertilizer Encyclopedia (2008) that featured 4,500 entries detailing the chemical composition of fertilizers, and all information right from their manufacturing and application to their economic and environmental considerations.
The nation honoured him with Padma Shri in 1984 and with Padma Bhushan in 2008. He is also the recipient of the Aryabhat award by the Astronautical Society of India.
Gowarikar passed away on January 2, 2015 at the age of 81.