Born on January 13, 1949, Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma is a former Indian Air Force pilot, who became the first-ever Indian to go to space.
According to Britannica, when he first joined the Indian Air Force as a pilot in 1970, he flew 21 combat missions in a MiG-21 in the Bangladesh war of 1971. Sharma, however, is most notably known for flying aboard a Soyuz T11 spacecraft with two Soviet cosmonauts, commander Yury Malyshev and flight engineer Gennady Strekalov, to the space station Salyut 7 on April 2, 1984, and thus becoming the first Indian to journey into space.
At the space station, Sharma was responsible for performing experiments that included photography of India from space and exercises to study the effects of yoga on the body during weightlessness. This mission lasted nearly eight days with Sharma and others spending seven days, 21 hours and 40 minutes aboard the Salyut 7.
When asked by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi as to what India looked like from space, his answer was “Sare jahan se achchha (the best in the world)”.
Once, he came back from the space mission, he also said that, “slowly, you begin to realise that borders are not visible from space and then you start looking at your country as part of a whole and the whole being planet Earth itself. You come back feeling how fragile the planet is and how it needs to be protected”.
This was a defining moment for India, as till today, Rakesh Sharma is the only Indian citizen to travel to space. With this historic moment in 1984, India became the 14th nation to send a man into space.
Today, at the age of 71, he lives a retired life in the Nilgiris and looks forward to his record as the only Indian in space to be broken if the ISRO 2020 mission succeeds.