Rakesh Sharma Story: Rakesh Sharma was born in Patiala, Punjab, on January 13, 1949. He completed his education at St. Ann’s High School in Secunderabad and St. George’s Grammar School in Hyderabad. He later earned his degree from Hyderabad’s Nizam College. His desire to serve the nation led him to the doors of the prestigious 35th National Defence Academy (NDA) in Khadakvasla, Pune.
In 1970, Rakesh Sharma started his career in the Indian Air Force (IAF), where he demonstrated exceptional skill as a test pilot. By 1984, he was charged to lead his squadron through various missions. He demonstrated his remarkable skills as a fighter pilot in the 1971 Bangladesh War by flying the MiG-21 and completing 21 combat missions, which earned him the prestigious Vir Chakra award.
In 1982, Rakesh Sharma got a fantastic opportunity to add his name to the golden pages in the history of Indian space exploration. Through a historic collaboration between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Soviet Interkosmos space programme, he became the first Indian citizen to traverse beyond the reaches of Earth’s gravity.
Rakesh Sharma was selected to participate in the joint Soviet-Indian spaceflight program, Soviet Interkosmos, as a cosmonaut. Before setting out on his space mission, he underwent rigorous training at the world-famous Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Moscow. On April 3, 1984, along with two Soviet cosmonauts, flight engineer Gennady Strekalov and commander Yury Malyshev, he flew on a Soyuz T-11 to the Salyut 7 space station.
Rakesh Sharma conducted several experiments in space, such as biomedicine, remote sensing, astronomy, and materials processing. He also researched the effects of yoga on weightlessness and took amazing space photos of India. The crew safely returned to Earth on April 11 after spending an impressive 21 hours and 40 minutes on board the Salyut 7 space station, touching down in Kazakhstan, where they received a grand welcome.
‘Saare Jahan Se Accha’ (Better than the rest of the world) was Rakesh Sharma’s answer when the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, asked him a profound question about how India looked from space. His answer echoed across the nation and filled every Indian’s heart with immense pride. In addition to being a historic moment for India, Rakesh Sharma’s space mission won him the esteemed Hero of the Soviet Union title, the highest honour bestowed by the Soviet Union.
Apart from this, Rakesh Sharma was also awarded several awards and honours, which include the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award, by President Zail Singh. He was also awarded honorary doctorates from several universities, such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Andhra University and the Indira Gandhi National Open University. He was also invited to various international events, such as the World Economic Forum and the United Nations. He has been featured in several books, documentaries and films, such as Wings of Fire, The Sky is Not the Limit and Mission Mangal.
Rakesh Sharma Story: Retired from the Indian Air Force in 1990 as a Wing Commander. He then joined Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as a test pilot and worked there until 2001. He also served as the chairman of the National Space Advisory Council and mentored young and aspiring space enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. He now lives in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, with his wife, Madhu, a former dancer and choreographer. They have two sons, Kapil and Siddharth, who are both filmmakers. He is still associated with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), advising them on various space missions, such as the Gaganyaan mission, which aims to send Indian astronauts to space by 2024.