Sare jahaan se achcha: A throwback to 1984

Cut to circa 2019. He continues to hold the record of being the only Indian to ride into outer space.

When Doordarshan’s grainy telecasts were the sole source of entertainment in living rooms across the country in the early 1980s, a conversation between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and a dapper Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, then orbiting the earth along with Russian cosmonauts Yuri Malyshev and Gennadi Strekalov on board the Soyuz T-11, often made headlines for a lasting riposte by the fighter pilot who created history by becoming the first Indian to fly in space: Sare jahaan se accha was his description of India when Mrs Gandhi asked him how the country looked from outer space. He, alongside Wing Commander Ravish Malhotra, also a fighter pilot, made the mark at the end of an arduous selection and training process, but both knew that only one of them would fly into outer space.

Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma spent seven days and 21 hours in space, often practicing ‘zero gravity yoga’ or conducting scientific studies involving bio-medicine and remote sensing technology, after the blast off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 3, 1984.

Cut to circa 2019. He continues to hold the record of being the only Indian to ride into outer space. Two others—Isro’s scientists P Radhakrishnan and N C Bhat—were set to journey into space onboard the US space shuttle ‘Challenger’ to deploy two INSAT satellites in September 1986 but were grounded because the space shuttle blew up mid-air in January 1986, killing seven astronauts on board. This disaster forced NASA to put all flights of the space shuttle on hold for three years. When flights resumed, NASA did away with the launch of commercial satellites by the space shuttle, a decision which crushed the dreams of Mr Radhakrishnan, Mr Bhat and many others.

Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma (Retd), now settled in picturesque Wellington, has often remarked, albeit tongue-in-cheek, that he feels “lonely” as the only Indian to have embarked on a flight to outer space, more than three decades of his life changing outing!

Though Indian origin Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams ventured into outer space, both were American citizens at the time of their ride onboard NASA space shuttles.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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