Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian who went into space
Rakesh Sharma, AC (born 13 January 1949) was an Indian Air Force pilot who flew aboard Soyuz T-11 on 3 April 1984 as part of the Soviet Interkosmos program. He’s the only Indian citizen to go to space, although there have been other astronauts with an Indian background but not Indian citizens.
Sharma was born on 13 January 1949 in Patiala, Punjab, India. He attended St. George’s Grammar School in Hyderabad and Nizam College in Hyderabad. In July 1966, he enrolled at the National Defence Academy. In 1970, he was commissioned into the Indian Air Force.
An alumnus of the 35th National Defence Academy, Sharma joined the Indian Air Force in 1970. He rose through the ranks and was promoted to the rank of squadron leader in 1984. On 20 September 1982, he was selected to be a cosmonaut and go into space as part of a joint programme between the Indian Air Force and the Soviet Interkosmos space programme.
Sharma became the first Indian to go into space when he flew aboard the Soviet rocket Soyuz T-11 in 1984, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The Soyuz T-11 spacecraft carrying cosmonauts including Sharma docked and transferred the three-member Soviet-Indian international crew, consisting of the ship’s commander, Yury Malyshev, and flight engineer, Gennadi Strekalov, to the Salyut 7 Orbital Station. In 7 days, 21 hours, and 40 minutes, Sharma and his team conducted 43 experiments aboard the Salyut 7. His work was mostly in biomedicine and remote sensing. The crew held a joint news conference with officials in Moscow and Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi asked Sharma how India looked from outer space, and he said, “Sare Jahan Se Accha” (the best in the world). Iqbal wrote this patriotic poem when India was under British colonial rule, and it’s still popular. India became the 14th nation to send a human into outer space with Sharma’s trip on Soyuz T-11.
Sharma retired as a wing commander and then joined Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in 1987. He served as chief test pilot in HAL’s Nashik Division until 1992, then moved to Bangalore to work as HAL’s chief test pilot. He retired in 2001.
Award and recognition
Upon his return from space, Sharma was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union award. Till date, he’s the only Indian to get it. In addition, India awarded him the Ashoka Chakra along with two Soviet mission members, Malyshev and Strekalov.
Some rare information about Rakesh Sharma
Rakesh Sharma carried portraits of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, President Zail Singh, and Defense Minister Venkataraman, as well as soil from Rajghat, Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi.
In addition to being the first Indian in space, Rakesh Sharma was also the first Indian to get the Hero of the Soviet Union award. His Russian co-astronauts Yuri Malyshev and Genadi Strekalov also got Ashok Chakras.
The Defense Food Research Lab in Mysore helped Rakesh Sharma take Indian food into space. He packed suji halwa, aloo chole, and veg pulao that he shared with his fellow astronauts.
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