An Interview With Rakesh Sharma, The First Indian Astronaut

The moon and stars have fascinated every human being, but only one in a billion Indians has gone close to them. Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space, tells us about his incredible journey.

By Arun Sharma

An Interview With Rakesh Sharma, The First Indian Astronaut

The only Indian to go into space, recipient of the Ashok Chakra and the Hero of the Soviet Union, Rakesh Sharma is a name that every Indian feels proud of. With a biopic on his life to be released soon, ParentCircle reached out to speak to Rakesh Sharma. Here are excerpts from the interview.

ParentCircle: It has been almost 34 years since you became the first Indian to travel into space on board Soyuz T11. How does it feel to be the only Indian to have accomplished this feat?

Rakesh Sharma: It has been unfortunate for the scientific community. I feel that my flight was before its time in the sense that our country’s space programme was not mature enough at that point to embark on a manned space programme. Hence the lack of continuity.

PC: Tell us how it happened — your journey from selection to finally making it aboard Soyuz?

RS: Well, the Indian Space Research Organisation was busy with its satellite programme and expressed a lack of interest. So, Mrs Indira Gandhi, who was the Prime Minister then, asked the Indian Air Force (IAF) next who jumped at the offer, and I got lucky!

PC: What was the reaction of your parents when they got to know that their son was going to be India’s first astronaut?

RS: Mixed, I guess. Pride on the one hand, naturally, and, concern on the other as I was going to be exposed to a lot of risk.

PC: How different was the experience of travelling in a rocket from that of flying a fighter aircraft?

RS: Vastly different. As the environment of space cannot be replicated on the earth, training, though essential, was restricted to procedures and exposure; so, it wasn’t experiential. Essentially, procedures were practised and the body trained to handle the expected rigours of space travel. The actual experience mostly came from ‘learning on the job’.

PC: Share with us your experience of the space mission. What are the things you did during those 21 hours 40 minutes in space?

RS: Actually, I was in space for about 190 hours. My day was packed with activities like setting up experiments, performing them, documenting the results; setting up the next experiment and so on. In between, I took time off for meals and interviews with dignitaries.

PC: ‘Rakesh Sharma landed on the moon’ – Why do you think this myth came into existence?

RS: The concept of space travel was relatively unknown in our country. My guess is that the person on the street brought up on ‘Chanda mama’ stories/songs just associated space with the moon. Plus, we get to ‘see’ the moon while space itself is a vast, dark, gravity-less vacuum with nothingness all around!

PC: What are the qualities that you would credit your success to?

RS: Being at the right place at the right time, being physically and mentally fit, being a qualified test pilot, having an open mind to try out something new, and being lucky to have made it.

PC: How did your parents influence your personality and your choice of career?

RS: By supporting my decision to join the IAF, not forcing me into a career of their choice, inculcating in me a sense of hard work and influencing me to strive to be the best, and making me realise my potential.

PC: As a parent, what were the qualities you wanted to instil in your children?

RS: To identify their passion and then let them follow it through, whatever that may be. Also, hard work and ethical conduct. And, I encouraged them to become thinking, inquisitive, empathetic, multi-dimensional individuals with varied interests.

PC: Your son, Kapil Sharma, is a successful film director. Your thoughts on how he decided to pursue a career in films rather than in space science…

RS: He had the freedom to choose his career. His school honed his sensibility towards the environment and he realised the power of films to send out messages on topics close to his heart. Similarly, my daughter trained as a musician, singer, song writer, textile designer and now, she is a behavioural science professional.

PC: A biopic based on your life is to be released soon. How does it feel to know that a movie is being made on your life? And, what do you expect to see in the movie being made on your life?

RS: I cannot talk much about it as it is in the works, and I have signed a nondisclosure agreement. Broadly, it will document my journey and the challenges that my family had to deal with along the way.

PC: You have been awarded the Ashok Chakra and the Hero of the Soviet Union. How does it feel to be the recipient of the highest honour from two countries?

RS: I feel humbled.

PC: “Saare jahan se accha Hindostan hamara” – your feelings when you uttered those famous lines in describing how our country appeared from space?

RS: I was being factual. Our country does look beautiful from space. And, being a patriotic Indian who is proud of our inclusive culture, I was also alluding to the fact that there is more to our country than just its looks!

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