Celebrating 40th anniversary of Rakesh Sharma becoming first Indian in Outer Space

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New Delhi: Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian in outer space, 40 years ago. Sharma, along with crew mates Yury Malyshev and Gennadi Strekalov were launched into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on the Soyuz T-11 spacecraft. Their destination was the Salyut 7 orbital station, where they spent nearly eight days in Earth orbit, conducting biomedical and remote sensing studies.

Sharma was born in Patiala on 13 January, 1949, and attended St George’s Grammar School in Hyderabad before graduating from the Nizam College. He joined the National Defence Academy in 1966 and was comissioned into the Indian Air Force as a pilot in 1970. Sharma was also a test pilot for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, testing out various aircraft. His presence of mind saved his life when he ejected himself from a MiG-21.

During the Bangladesh War in 1971, Rakesh Sharma flew 21 combat missions, and displayed remarkable integrity as well as respect for enemies, when Pakistani Rangers waved white flags. Sharka directed the Border Security Force to stop firing so that the Pakistanis could retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades.

In 1984, on board the Soyuz T-11 spacecraft, Sharma experimented with ‘zero gravity yoga’ to tackle space sickness, which impressed his Russian colleagues and was appreciated by the Russian space agency. The Defence Food Research Laboratory in Mysore packed suji halwa, alu choley and vegetable pulav for Sharma, who shared these delicacies with his Russian crew mates.

How did Rakesh Sharma return to the Earth?

Sharma returned to Earth on 11 April, 1984, on board the Soyiz T-10 spacecraft, touching down in the marshy plains of Arkalyk, a small town at a distance of about 600 kilometres from the Baikonur cosmodrome. Sharma underwent an intensive training programme at the Yuri Gagarin Comsonaut Training Centre at Star City in Russia, which is the same facility where the current Gaganyaan astronauts went for their training too. Sharma’s benefit will benefit the Gaganyaan astronauts.

After returning to the Earth, Sharma was bestowed with the prestigious title of ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’. Sharma is the only Indian to receive this award. The Indian government awarded him with the highest peacetime gallantry award, the Ashoka Chakra. The Ashoka Chakra was also awarded to his crewmates, Malyzhev and Strekalov, who are the first and only foreigners to be awarded with the Ashoka Chakra.

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