Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space, shares tips on charting out a career in space science for your child.
By Leena Ghosh
When you are the first and the only astronaut from a country to go into space, your story becomes one in a million, automatically. Rakesh Sharma’s historical journey into space in 1984, aboard the Soyuz T-11, continues to inspire future astronauts from India till date. In fact, his biopic is to be released soon.
In this interview, he talks about the special skills your child will need to become an astronaut and how the future lies in pursuing the space sciences. Following are some excerpts:
ParentCircle: A career in space science sounds fascinating. But, you have also said that a career as a cosmonaut is not a joyride. What should a child have in him to dream of becoming an astronaut?
Rakesh Sharma: I believe that there are jobs that require just expertise and there are others that require proficiency, commitment and a determination that needs you to remain invested, even when the going gets tough. A career in Military Aviation, Space Sciences and Research or Innovation requires an aspirant to have the second type of skill set and, of course, passion.
PC: What are the specific skills required to aim for a career in space science?
RS: Apart from all the skills mentioned above, an expertise in space sciences, an above-average medical fitness score and a good academic record.
PC: Space is one of the most extreme environments to work in. What are the mental and physical attributes needed to survive there? And, what about the psychological support required?
RS: Someone aspiring to be an astronaut must be adventurous, have passion, and be fit – both physically and mentally. He must also be dogged in his will to succeed. The ability to live with oneself and, at the same time, co-exist with other crew members, while enduring a certain level of physical discomfort is a must-have.
PC: What were the various responsibilities you shouldered as an astronaut?
RS: Professionally, I did whatever was required of me in my role as a crew member, during the flight. Personally, I have tried to be a responsible role model for the succeeding generations of proud Indians.
PC: During the time you spent in space, you conducted experiments in Biomedicine. Does Biomedicine have a role to play in Space Science?
RS: Humans are explorers. To enable humans to explore and survive in space and remain productive, Biomedicine has an important role to play and needs to be studied.
PC: You also conducted experiments in space photography. Tell us something about how photography and space sciences are linked.
RS: The space near the Earth’s orbit provides us with an ideal platform to photograph our home planet, using remote sensing technique that has the capability to reveal natural resources that lie below the surface or along the coast lines. When such data is processed, we get to learn about areas rich in natural resources. That information aids in national development. From the view of aesthetics, photographing the Earth from near its orbit, makes for some stunning pictures of our home planet.
PC: You went into space as early as 1984. Has space travel become any easier today?
RS: I would say that the medical requirements have become less stringent as we gain more experience in human space travel and the medical data base keeps building up. So, in that sense, yes, space travel has become easier but, living and working in space remains as difficult as it ever was.
PC: Tell us about some important technological developments that have taken place in the field of space science in the past 34 years?
RS: The cost of access to space has come down and the reliability and safety of space flight has improved. The legislation of utilising space for peaceful purposes also has got more traction from member countries of the United Nations.
PC: While NASA is a premier space agency, ISRO is becoming a favourite destination for launching satellites. How does the capabilities of ISRO compare with NASA today?
RS: ISRO has had an enviable success rate both in terms of launches as well as cost per kg of launching payloads. The progress has been slow, but steady, because nobody sells this kind of technology. We must develop it all in-house. NASA’s priorities are in line with the dictates of its funding agency, the US Govt, which is the same case with the ISRO. But, our programme focusses on the socio-economic benefits for the common man, while USA’s programme has other geo-political priorities.
PC: What is your perception of the level of awareness among children about space science today?
RS: I think the awareness is increasing. Space science has captured the imagination of the youth, as it should be doing, because future opportunities lie in that realm.
PC: What is your advice to children who dream of becoming an astronaut?
RS: Study well. Do not shy away from challenges. Things are never as difficult as they seem when viewed from the outside. Do not let opportunities slip through. Decide beforehand whether you want to work for money or for professional fulfilment. Astronauts are not millionaires, but all of them are professionally-fulfilled. Choose wisely and get into this line only if you are passionate about it, as this profession will place a lot of demands on you. All the best!
This Indian space hero’s advice will surely encourage your child to follow his passion and reach out to the stars!
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