Rakesh Sharma, India’s first astronaut, is a pioneer in space exploration and a revered national figure.

Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma, an astronaut, etched his name in history and filled India with pride as he embarked on an extraordinary space mission. Spending an impressive seven days, 21 hours, and 40 minutes aboard the Salyut 7 space station, he became the first Indian to venture beyond Earth’s atmosphere. This remarkable feat was made possible through collaboration between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Soviet Interkosmos space program.

During a joint TV news conference alongside then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Rakesh Sharma posed a profound question: What did India look like from space? With immense pride, he replied, “Sare jahan se accha” (Better than the rest of the world), leaving an indelible mark on the nation.

Rakesh Sharma’s journey into space not only represented a significant milestone for India but also earned him the esteemed Hero of the Soviet Union award. Moreover, he ensured a taste of home in space by carrying Indian delicacies such as Aloo Choley, Suji Halwa, and Pulao, which he shared with his fellow cosmonauts.

Born on January 13, 1949, in Patiala, Punjab, Rakesh Sharma displayed unwavering dedication throughout his education and training. He attended St. Ann’s High School in Secunderabad and St. George’s Grammar School in Hyderabad for his schooling. Subsequently, he completed his graduation from Nizam College in Hyderabad. His aspiration for a military career led him to the esteemed 35th National Defence Academy (NDA) in Khadakvasla, Pune.

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Commencing his career in the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 1970, Rakesh Sharma excelled as a test pilot. Progressing through the ranks, he attained the position of squadron leader by 1984. During the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, he showcased exceptional skills as a fighter pilot, successfully completing 21 combat missions while piloting the MiG-21.

In an extraordinary turn of events, Rakesh Sharma was selected in 1982 to participate as a cosmonaut in the joint Soviet-Indian spaceflight program. Following extensive training at Moscow’s renowned Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, he embarked on his space voyage on April 3, 1984. Accompanied by two Soviet cosmonauts, flight engineer Gennady Strekalov and commander Yury Malyshev, he traveled aboard Soyuz T-11 to the Salyut 7 space station.

During his time in space, Rakesh Sharma conducted a variety of experiments and exercises, including studying the effects of weightlessness on yoga and capturing awe-inspiring photographs of India from outer space. After nearly eight days in orbit, the crew returned safely to Earth, landing in Kazakhstan on April 11.

Following his retirement as a Wing Commander in 1987, Rakesh Sharma joined Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as the chief test pilot in the Nashik Division. However, fate had other plans when he encountered a life-threatening situation while testing a MiG-21 near Ozar, Nashik. Thanks to his quick thinking and timely ejection from the aircraft, he narrowly escaped disaster.

In 2001, Rakesh Sharma concluded his flying career and settled in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. Despite his remarkable achievements, he remains a modest individual with a diverse range of hobbies, including golf, gardening, yoga, reading, and travel.