Indian space hero, Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma turns 71 today.
Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma is part of India’s space folklore after he became the first Indian to orbit in space way back in April 1984 aboard Russia’s Soyuz T-11. He spent 7 days, 21 hours and 40 minutes in space along with two Soviet astronauts, Yury Malyshev and Gennadi Strekalov.
Born on January 13, 1949, in Patiala, Rakesh Sharma, before turning into a cosmonaut, worked as an air force pilot in the Indian Armed Forces.
Sharma immortalised ‘Saare Jahan Se Acha, Hindustan Hamara’ when he told the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that that’s how India looked from up above.
“How does India look from space,” India’s prime minister asked Rakesh Sharma. “I can say without any hesitation “Saare Jahan se acha” (best in the world).”
Here are some interesting and lesser-known facts about the Indian who took the nation’s name higher than ever:
1. In January 1982, when it was decided that an Indian would go into space on a Soviet space ship, Sqn Leader Rakesh Sharma volunteered for this very challenging mission.
After a very rigorous selection process, which included a most exacting medical test, he was selected as one of the two cosmonaut candidates from among 150 highly qualified and experienced pilots of the Indian Air Force.
2. After his selection, he underwent training as a cosmonaut at Yuri Gagarin Centre in the USSR, where he applied himself with total devotion and dedication and won acclaim from Soviet Space experts.
3. On April 3, 1984 Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to orbit in space. He carried out all the scientific experiments planned for the joint Indo-Soviet Space Mission and other tasks assigned to him with great facility and excellence.
4. Rakesh Sharma took Indian food to space with the help of the Defense Food Research Lab situated in Mysore. They had packed suji halwa, aloo chole and veg pulao which Sharma shared with fellow astronauts.
5. He photographed India from space and the photos he took saved India two years of aerial photography to map the same area.
6. Sharma carried with him portraits of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, President Zail Singh, defence minister, Venkataraman and soil from Rajghat, Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi.
7. Apart from being the first Indian to stay in space, Rakesh Sharma is also the first Indian to have been conferred with the ‘Hero of Soviet Union’ award. He was also awarded Ashok Chakra along with his Russian co astronauts Yuri Malyshev and Genadi Strekalov.
8. The Government of India conferred him with the highest gallantry award – the Ashoka Chakra.
9. Sharma retired from the Indian Air Force as a Wing Commander.
Rakesh Sharma not only has carved out a place for himself in the space roll of honour but has brought glory and credit to the nation.
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