Exactly on April 3, 28 years back, IAF Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma strapped himself inside a Soyuz T-11 mission capsule. As the rocket, essentially a gigantic intercontinental ballistic missile, carrying the 6850-kg spacecraft, blasted off from its launch pad in Baikonur in Kazakhstan, Sharma became the first Indian cosmonaut, the first Indian in space.
Born on January 13, 1949, in Patiala, Punjab, to Hindu Gaur parents, Sharma joined the Indian Air Force in 1970 as a pilot officer after joining the NDA as an IAF cadet in 1966. In the 1971 War, Sharma flew missions is MiG aircraft with considerable success.
He was picked to be India's representative in the Soviet Union's Intercosmos programme - an outreach initiative by the Soviets, using space travel, to enhance friendship and cooperation with Warsaw Pact nations and a few others like India and France on September 20, 1982. Wing Commander Ravish Malhotra, another IAF officer was selected as his backup.
Accompanied and guided by Yuri Malyshev and Gennady Strekalov, both experienced Soviet cosmonauts with multiple space flights to their credit, the Indian research cosmonaut galvanised the countrys citizenry like seldom before. There was an outpouring of nationalism. His spaceflight would be remembered by all Indians who were around to listen to AIR or to watch the news on Doordarshan. There were frenzied celebrations in many Indian cities, the kind of which were reserved for the cricket teams victory over Pakistan, a relative rarity back then....