Some Lesser Known Facts About Rakesh Sharma
- Rakesh Sharma was born into a modest family in Patiala, Punjab.
- His ancestors hail from Multan, West Punjab, present-day Pakistan.
- Since his school days, Mr. Sharma was inspired by the outer space events. Recalling the Yuri Gagarin’s entry to space, Rakesh Sharma says-
I was a student when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961, and I lapped every written word.”
- When Rakesh Sharma joined the Indian Air force as a cadet in 1966, he was just 18.
- After passing successfully from the National Defence Academy, Pune, he was commissioned into the Indian Air force as a test pilot in 1970.
- Sharma slowly and steadily advanced through many levels, and in 1984, he was appointed as the Squadron Leader in the Indian Air Force.
- In the year 1980, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) asked the Indian Air Force (IAF) to select two cosmonauts for a joint Indo-Soviet manned space mission. Thus, Wing Commanders Ravish Malhotra, 40, and Rakesh Sharma, 36, were chosen for the task. However, due to some reasons, the requirement was later reduced to only a single man. Eventually, Rakesh Sharma was chosen for the task.
- Sharma then underwent rigorous training for around 3 years. As part of the training, he was locked up by the air force in a room with artificial lights at an aerospace facility in Bangalore for 72 hours to test for “latent claustrophobia”. Additionally, he had to learn the Russian language quickly, as most of his training instructions were addressed in the same.
- Unfortunately, when Sharma was training in Moscow, he received the news that his 6-year-old daughter, Mansi, was no more. In spite of this, he did not abandon his training and went on to become the 128th man and the first and the only Indian to go to space.
- On 2 April 1984, the then Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, along with the ship’s commander- Yury Malyshev, and flight engineer- Gennadi Strekalov, took off from a remote place called Baikonur, now in Kazakhstan, from the world’s first and largest operational space launch facility to the Salyut 7 Orbital Station.
- As part of the voyage, Sharma spent around 8 days aboard the Salyut 7 Orbital Station. At the station, his job was to conduct experiments, mainly in the fields of biomedicine and remote sensing.
- When the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, asked Sharma, on a hazy live link, how India looked from space, he delivered a line in Hindi which would have easily become a viral tweet today. “Saare Jahan Se Achaa (The Best in the World)”, Sharma had replied.
- Soon after his return to the Earth, Rakesh Sharma achieved a celebrity status both in India and across the world. Interviews, seminars, interactions, press meets, lectures, etc. became a routine to Mr. Sharma.
- Even after achieving such a magnificent feat, he doesn’t boast about it. He says-
I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have gone into space. But, it could have been anyone. It is like a lottery, Meri Lag Gayi.”
- However, little did he know that his achievement would soon be forgotten at the expense of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
- He retired from the IAF with the rank of Wing Commander in 1987. Post retiring, Sharma joined Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and served as the Chief Test Pilot in the HAL Nashik Division till 1992.
- Mr. Sharma had a close shave with death during his stint with the HAL. One day when he was testing a MIG-21 fighter jet near Ozar in Nashik, he lost control of the plane owing to a technical snag. Fortunately, he ejected out of the jet at the last moment.
- In an interview, he revealed that he practised The ‘zero gravity yoga’ to deal with the issue of space sickness.
- Many people think that Rakesh Sharma is the first Indian to walk on the moon. However, this is a misconception and should not be given any heed. Putting simply, Sharma has never walked on the moon and is only the first Indian to go to space.
- His son, Kapil Sharma, is a Bollywood film director, who directed the 2013 John Abraham starrer- I, Me Aur Main.
- Reportedly, a biopic on Rakesh Sharma is under production in Bollywood. Initially, Aamir Khan was the first choice to essay Rakesh Sharma on the screen, but when Aamir Khan left the project, Shah Rukh Khan came into the picture; however, he also left the film later.
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