New Delhi: Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma is the first Indian to go into space. He went in to the space on April 3, 1984, aboard USSR's Soyuz T-11 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Squadron Leader Sharma was honoured with the highest USSR decoration - 'Hero of the Soviet Union'. After returning to India, he was awarded the Ashok Chakra.
Squadron Leader Sharma was a proud and a delighted man when India’s first unmanned flight to the moon, Chandrayaan-1 blasted off from Sriharikota, off the Andhra Pradesh coast, early morning on Wednesday.
He spoke to CNN-IBN about the moon mission and its impact on the Indian scientific community.
CNN-IBN: (US astronaut Neil) Armstrong (first person to set foot on the lunar surface) called his mission to the moon a giant leap for mankind. How would you describe what Chandrayaan means for India?
Rakesh Sharma: Well, I would say, its a small step for science, for India through the efforts of ISRO, that's how I would describe it. Essentially it's the beginning of the exploration era and to tell the world now ISRO has now sort of come of age and that it is ready and able to take part in collaborative ventures to explore near earth object. Well the moon is one and thereafter deep space exploration.
CNN-IBN: Even so there have been some misgivings ever since the ISRO announced work on mission, but you were amongst those who has backed the plan for man on the moon mission, which could come to Rs 10-15,000 crore. Has today's success silenced that criticism?
Rakesh Sharma: Well, I do not think it specifically answers that question. I think what we saw today is a success and again to be fair it's a bit premature in the sense that the satellite as of now is orbiting the earth, it is something ISRO has done earlier. The challenge will begin later, few days from now, when the lunar orbit will be achieved, now that is something not yet been achieved by ISRO.
So we are looking at command and control at distances which earlier ISRO has not been to, so we are yet to find out whether we are going to succeed. So what I am going get at it is that this is a beginning and as to the justification, we should look at it as an investment into the future because what this is going to get for us is perhaps energy security at the minimum and perhaps another place for us to live because the rate at which we are spending non-renewal resources on earth, it is a not a figment of anybody's imagination that few years from now, we probably would have to look for another place to inhabit because the earth is going to become uninhabitable, the rate at which we are going.
CNN-IBN: It's 24 years since you saw the earth from space and said India was saare jahan se achcha (better than the entire world). How much has our view of space travel changed then?
Rakesh Sharma: Space travel I think is a much closer now, everybody feels that it is doable that they are going to be a part, they can be a part of this experience. Well for one you can buy a ticket for $30 million but given where the markets are today I think it is beyond for a lot of people but otherwise I think it is lot more within reach. Private industry has gotten into the act, you know that private entrepreneurs are now looking at providing access to space, so space tourism will follow.
So essentially I would say that space flight today is in the same stage that perhaps civil aviation was in the 50's and it can only get better from this point onwards.
CNN-IBN: Do you think about going back into space?
Rakesh Sharma: Yes! I am ready tomorrow if CNN-IBN pays that $30 million ticket otherwise as and when the time comes and if I am really fit and I am certainly willing and I remain able to do this flight
CNN-IBN: In the 80s Indian kids looked upto Rakesh Sharma and Ravish Malhotra (Wing Commander Ravish Malhotra was the backup astronaut for Sharma). In the past decade its been Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. How will this mission define the future of space research for our county's starry eyed kids?
Rakesh Sharma: I would say that the I identify totally with the kids. I was a kid myself this morning when I was watching this successful launch. I was there at Sriharikota.
What it really opens up is I think is whole new career option for youngsters. I think this is where we can expect kids to look beyond IT and it's a very lucky generation because within their lifetime they are going to be exploring space and you know there are career options now available to them.
These are viable career options, if they have the spirit of enquiry in them, if they have the passion to explore, well this is the place to be and this is just the beginning. The Indian Institute of Space Technology is there available at Trivandrum and guys can really make a beeline for that and get in onto this act as soon as possible, that's my advice to them
CNN-IBN: Thank you Rakesh Sharma.
Rakesh Sharma: Thank you very much.