Rakesh Sharma, the Punjab-born cosmonaut, and pilot, who took India to become the 14th nation to travel outer space. The soft-spoken, former Indian Air Force Pilot has flown 21 combat flights during the Bangladesh War in 1971 and it was in 1982 that he was selected as a cosmonaut for an Indo-Soviet spaceflight.
Sharma created history on April 3, 1984 as he flew along with Yury Malyshev and Gennady Strekalov on the Soyuz T-11 spending eight days in space and finally landing in Kazakhstan on April 11. He has been an inspiration to every space enthusiast in India. Here are some interesting facts about Rakesh Sharma that you probably did not know:
1. Rakesh Sharma was a man of integrity and had respect even for the enemies.
It takes a man to be virtuous to achieve great heights and Rakesh Sharma showed pure strength of character in his chivalrous conducts at the time of war. Take a look at one of his quotes to know what we’re talking about:
“As Pakistani rangers suffered casualties, they waved white flags, asking BSF to stop the firing so that they can lift the bodies of the dead men. We stopped the firing after their request.” – Rakesh Sharma
2. He experimented with Yoga to cope with space sickness
The “zero gravity yoga” was practiced by Sharma in 1984 and his experiments were quite appreciated by the The Rocosmos. At a conference in 2009, Sharma had advised next Indian cosmonauts to practice yoga in order to deal with space sickness.
3. He barely escaped death while he was flying an MiG-21 near Nasik
Sharma had been a Test Pilot at HAL where he tested several aircraft. One one such occasion at Ojhar, near Nasik, Sharma escaped a fatal accident by ejecting himself off the MiG-21 seat.
4. He had the most perfect answer to Indira Gandhi’s question
When Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India asked Rakesh Sharma how India looked from outer space, he promptly replied, Saare jahan se achha (better than the whole world) and the pride in his voice unmistakable.
5. Rakesh Sharma never landed on the moon
Contrary to popular stories that we have grown up listening to, Rakesh Sharma had never really been on moon. He had been to the Near Earth Orbit and that, according to Rakesh Sharma himself, is not a very familiar concept to Indians.
6. Rakesh Sharma misses the Russian cheesecake
In an interview, Sharma was asked what he missed most from his days in the USSR. His reply was Black Caviar and Zapekanka which is cottage cheese cake of Russia.
7. Sharma was the first to feed Russians with Indian food in space
The Defense Food Research Laboratory in Mysore packed suji halwa, alu choley and vegetable pulao for Sharma which he gladly shared with Malyshev and Strekalov in outer space.
8. Sharma was awarded the prestigious Ashoka Chakra
The highest gallantry award during peace time, the Ashoka Chakra was awarded to Rakesh Sharma and his Russian companions by the Indian government. It was the first and only time that foreigners were awarded the Ashoka Chakra.
9. Rakesh Sharma was dubbed as the Hero of Soviet Union
Upon his return from space, Sharma made India proud as the Russian government honored him with the gallant title of the Hero of Soviet Union.
10. In 2014, 65-year-old Sharma wanted another chance to travel space
The unpardonable spirits of the Indian cosmonaut was seen yet again when Sharma, then 65, mentioned how he wanted another trip to space at an event organized in Bangalore by the IAF Training Command.
11. Rakesh Sharma’s son is a film director
Kapil Sharma, director of John Abraham, Chitrangada Singh, and Prachi Desai starrer I, Me aur Main is Rakesh Sharma’s son.
12. Sharma dreamed of flying jets as a five-year-old
As a child Sharma would run around with open arms, imitating the jet planes that were still new in India and hoping to fly one of them when he grew up.