'Pioneering Gaganyatri': ISRO Chief Applauds India's Only Astronaut

New Delhi:

Bharat is still “saare jahan se accha (best in the world)”, said the country’s very first cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma, who is celebrating the 40th anniversary of that historic flight. Closely connected to the country’s fresh effort to put four cosmonauts in space, Mr Sharma, who is now 75 years old, said he would love to take another flight, but only as a “tourist”.

“There was too much work. I just want to put my nose on the window (this time) and enjoy the sights of Mother Earth from space,” he told NDTV’s Science Editor Pallava Bagla in an exclusive interview.

Today, as India is preparing for its maiden human space flight as part of Mission Gaganyaan, the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO is also looking at that golden moment 40 years ago.

“Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma’s journey to space not only inspired Bharat but also symbolized the boundless potential of human endeavour,” said S Somanath, the chairman of the space research organisation, who was 21 years old at the time.

“On this 40th anniversary of historic space flight, let us take a moment to honour his remarkable achievement and the indelible mark he left on Indian space exploration,’ he added.

History was made on April 3, 1984, when Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma lifted off on a Soviet rocket and became India’s first “Gaganyatri” — a term the country has made official. He stayed on the Soviet space station for 7 days and 21 hours.

His conversation with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi –beamed into every house by Doordarshan — had thrilled the nation. To her question “Upar se Bharat kaisa lag raha hai (How does India look from up there)” he had responded with the famous line penned by Alama Iqbal, “Saare jahan se accha“. Mr Sharma told NDTV today that the line was not rehearsed at all. He used to sing the legendary song in school so it came naturally.

ISRO is now hoping to send one of four astronaut designates into space from Sriharikota as part of its Mission Gaganyaan. The rocket would be Indian and as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “This time, the countdown will be ours too”.

Group Captain Ravish Malhotra, who trained alongside Mr Sharma and was a standby cosmonaut, never flew into space. Now 81 years old, he went on to help create one of India’s most vibrant aerospace companies — the Dynamatic Technologies in Bengaluru.

Speaking of him, Mr Sharma said, “I had the good fortune of being selected to go up in space. I wish to emphasize that it was sheer good fortune because between my colleague Ravish Sir and myself, I can lay claim to no special quality that was present only in me and not him”.  

Mr Sharma now helps ISRO train the four astronaut designates for the Gaganyaan Mission.

Mr Sharma had trained in yoga before his flight and performed it while in the near zero gravity condition. The practice had earned him the moniker “World’s first Antriksh Yogi”.

“Purists will find the yoga I performed as naive. But doing it in weightless condition is not easy and a quality harness is required to hold the Yogi in space,” he said.

Sources in ISRO said yoga is now part of the routine of the “Fabulous four” as the Gaganyatri designates are often called.
Mr Somanath said Mr Sharma has been the “supporter, promoter and advisor for development of Gaganyaan”.

“He continues to support ISRO in many ways to develop the human space flight capability. He remains a pioneering Gaganyatri for India, as the four candidates follow in his footsteps as part of Mission Gaganyaan,” he added.

Mr Sharma said he eagerly awaits the day when he will get the company of an Indian in that elite club of “Universe Gazers”.


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