To Space and Back: Things You Might Not Know About India’s Legendary Cosmonaut, Rakesh Sharma


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On April 2 in 1984, an elderly couple, Tripta and Devendranath, sat on a carpeted floor and watched the live telecast of Soyuz T-11 in Russia taking off into space. In the spacecraft was a young man who would soon become the first Indian in space. Earlier that day they had gone to the gurdwara to offer their prayers to ensure a safe return for this man. They were his parents after all.

But on that day as millions of Indians looked towards the sky, for a brief moment, Rakesh Sharma was the country’s favourite son.

Given the sheer breadth of Sharma’s incredible achievements, it is no wonder that it has been announced that Bollywood actor Aamir Khan would be essaying him in an upcoming biopic.

With the industry already abuzz with expectations, we decided to take a look back on the celebrated cosmonaut who made the country proud over three decades ago.

Photo source: Wikimedia 

Rakesh started his career in the Indian Air Force

Born on January 13, 1949 in Punjab, he is an alumnus of the National Defence Academy and joined the Indian Air Force in 1970. In the next few years, he swiftly climbed the ranks and by the time he was taking off in space, he was a squadron leader.

The mission was a joint programme between India and Russia

On September 20, 1982, he was chosen to fly to space as part of a joint mission between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Soviet Intercosmos space program. During his time in Russia, he and wife learnt to speak Russian.


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He conducted life sciences experiments and did yoga in space

While in space, he along with the rest of the crew slept for 9 hours and then spent the rest of the time working. He spent a total of 7 days and 21 hours in space during which time he conducted a number of experiments, including silicium fusing tests. He also did yoga to see if that form of exercise affected the body in space.

His conversations with Indira Gandhi will leave you beaming with pride

The then-Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi in a telecast, noted to Rakesh Sharma, “Yours is a historic endeavour and I hope it will make our country space conscious and make young people more adventurous.”

During the mission, when Gandhi asked him how India looked like from space, he succinctly noted, “Saare Jahan se achcha.”

He helped map areas of India with his photography

When he was in space, whenever the craft would pass by India, he would take pictures. Given the powerful nature of the cameras, the pictures he took would be equivalent to two years’ worth of aerial photography that needed to be taken for the same area. In fact, during his tryst in space, he even spotted people trying to summit the Mount Everest!

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