Sunday, April 03, 2011

Indian Cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma: 27th year

"Saare Jahan Se Achcha"

Never have Iqbal's words soared such great heights [quite literally, in this case] touching the emotional chords of every Indian who has heard these magical words being uttered by the first Indian in outer Space, Cosmonaut Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma.

India-Russia Manned Space Mission [Soyuz T-11]

Dutifully ripped off Wikipedia

Today [3rd April 2011] marks the 27th anniversary of the historic journey that took the first Indian into Space. Strapped inside the Soyuz T-11 mission capsule [the first variant of which first went to Space in 1966 & whose improved variant continues to perform nearly the same task even today], mounted atop what was essentially an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile [ICBM] to travel to the furthest reaches of Space not travelled by any other Indian before. Cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma, besides becoming the 1st Indian in Space, also became the 138th human in Space.

This journey by Cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma, in which he spent more than a week aboard the Salyut-7 orbiting Space Station, was made possible as part of Soviet Union's Intercosmos programme - an outreach initiative by the Soviets, using Space travel, to enhance friendship & co-operation with Warsaw Pact nations, & in a few exceptional cases like that of India, Non-Aligned Movement [NAM] countries. Thus Cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma, then a Squadron leader in the Indian Air Force [IAF], was selected for this mission with then Wing Commander Ravish Malhotra, also serving in the Indian Air Force, was to be his backup undergoing all the training and procedures being performed by the primary members selected for the mission.

With a still-fledgling Space programme that India had at that time, the Scientific significance of the an Indian mission may have been somewhat limited. Material Science experiments devised, however, would have no doubt benefitted from the zero-gravity environment on-board the Salyut-7. However, the upswing of passion and inspiration the travel evoked amongst Indians was, without doubt, immeasurable.

Later, another Indian was said to be undergoing Astronaut training at NASA to be part of its manned mission, plans for which had to be aborted due to some reasons IIRC [will add to this or retract after confirmation - remember reading about it somewhere but can't locate the source any more].


Update: Yes indeed, 2 more Indian Scientists Nagapathi Chidambar Bhat [Nagapathi C. Bhat] and Paramaswaren Radhakrishnan Nair [Paramaswaren R. Nair], his backup, were undergoing training to become Astronauts at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] to be part of the STS-61-I mission aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger as payload specialists. However following its unfortunate crash during take-off on an earlier mission that resulted in its destruction, this mission was cancelled and they were unable to go to Space.

Thanks to the helpful member on the forum for pointing towards the Challenger disaster incidence - helped fine tune the Google search that got me the answer.


Subsequently, however, 2 women Astronauts of Indian origin Astronauts Kalpana Chawla & Sunita Pandya Williams did become members of its manned Shuttle mission & Astronaut Edward Michael Fincke is married to an Indian-origin Engineer with association with NASA. There was also news an Indian Space tourist  aboard the Virgin Galactic - don't remember the exact details now - not so relevant.

Its Space programme having reached a certain level of maturity, the Indian Space Research Organisation [ISRO] has scheduled its own manned Space programme, with the maiden launch scheduled for the 2016. Lots of technologies need to be developed and validated and rated for the human Space flight that India would embark upon. One of the most critical of these technologies would be the launch vehicle - the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle [GSLV], that is to power the mission, has had to face certain challenges impeding its successful launches in the last couple of attempts - expected failures that symbolize the authenticity & genuineness of an R&D programme.

Watch: Indian perspective on Manned Space Missions - reasons & necessary Technologies [Aero India 2011]

Extremely unfortunate to find that no Indian newspaper found the anniversary of this achievement by Cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma worthy of coverage, even in one of its inner pages as a footnote. Does not bode well for a country that fails to recognise and honor Science & Technology and its men in uniform - primary factors that determines a country's strength and destiny. In this case we've managed to dishonor and disregard both in one go.

The only article I found after searching was published a few days back appeared in the Financial Times, which my chacha Google tells me is a UK-based publication.

Read: India: Rakesh Sharma

Also no coverage in any of the MSM television news channels here in India, that otherwise specialize in whipping up hysteria and infusing melodrama even while reporting about paint drying.

Found this solitary report in a Tamil news channel: Rakesh Sharma Space Travel

Some pictures concerning the occasion.

Click on the thumbnail to view larger-sized images

Indian Cosmonaut Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma Indian Cosmonaut Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma with the Soyuz T-11 capsule
Soyuz T-11 capsule blasting off for Space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in present day Kazakhstan with Indian Cosmonaut Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma on-board Then Prime minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi with Indian Cosmonaut Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma and his backup Wing Commander Ravish Malhotra
Commander of the Soyuz T-11 mission Yuri Malyshev on his visit to India later Commander of the Soyuz T-11 mission Yuri Malyshev on his visit to India later

photos via

A recording of the conversation that took place between the then Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma while in. On being asked by the Prime Minister how India looks from up there, Rakesh Sharma replied with the historic lines stated at the beginning.

Cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma speaking to then India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from the Soviet Salyut-7 Space station

You may download and listen to the complete song, whose line was used by Cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma to give the reply.

Read: Saare Jahan Se Achcha - its continued popularity & recital even today a testament to that fact that Indians pay more heed to the message rather than the messenger.

On line of the Soviet Intercosmos initiative, I had asked for India to extend a similar proposal to the Islamic Republic of Iran - a mutually beneficial arrangement that would harm none, yet serve the purpose of realpolitik beautifully.



To the possibly 7-odd people* who probably visit this blog & wondering why there has been no recent updates - offline activities & commitments take precedence over activates of my online avatar & they are currently leaving me with no time to stay online as much, if at all, or as long as I would've liked. Situation likely to continue for the next couple of months at the very least. Had a few half-written write-ups about a few interesting things I had been reading prior to the virtual stoppage of online activities. May be able to post them only much later though.