Alexander Zheleznyakov, translated by Mikhail Vorobyov
INTERCOSMOS RETROSPECT: 1984 INDIA
In the second half of 1961 Yuri Gagarin said at an official meeting during his visit to India: “I think that sometime Soviet and Indian cosmonauts will research unexplored expanses of space together”.
The prophecy of the first cosmonaut came true 23 years later when Indian Air Force major Rakesh Sharma visited Earth orbit together with Soviet colleagues.
The idea of the Soviet-Indian joint spaceflight appeared in the late 1970’s after successful realization of “Intercosmos” programme. Then the Soviet government was puzzled with a question: “Whom still to take into space?“. The first joint flights had shown in practice that it was possible to receive quite good political dividends at the minimal financial expenses. So India appeared in the list of countries as potential candidates for joint spaceflight.
Accordingly, an agreement about the flight of an Indian cosmonaut onboard a “Soyuz” spacecraft and the "Salyut” orbital station was signed in 1981. One year later two representatives of India – Rakesh Sharma and Ravish Malkhotra – started training in Star City near Moscow. During the next year and a half the Indians passed an intensive basic cosmonauts training course and preparation within the joint flight programme.
And so the significant day of the mission launch came – on 3rd April 1984 the “Soyuz T-11” spacecraft was launched from Bajkonur cosmodrome, its crew including commander Yuri Malyshev, flight engineer Gennady Strekalov and cosmonaut - researcher Rakesh Sharma.
The cosmonaut - researcher Major Rakesh Sharma was born on January, 13th 1949 in the city of Patiala in India’s Punjab. On graduating college he entered the National Academy of Defense in Kwadakwasla which he graduated from in 1970.
Sharma took basic course of piloting at the Central pilots training courses in Kant (Kirgyzskaya SSR, USSR). In subsequent years he flew above Hindustan, improved his piloting skills, and mastered many types of aircraft as an officer of the Indian Air Forces. Also he completed courses training as a test-pilot.
Rakesh was one of the first to submit the application when cosmonauts’ recruitment was announced in India. He managed to pass through the selection filters and so became a candidate for flight into space. It soon became clear soon that it was he who would be selected as a member of the main crew – and this was confirmed at the end of 1983.
However, the personal tragedy nearly closed road to stars for Sharma. Shortly before the planned launch day his daughter died of purulent appendicitis in India. We can only guess what Rakesh went through compelled to return home urgently. But in some days he resumed training at the GCTC (Gagarin cosmonauts’ training centre). Other crew members – Yuri Malyshev and Gennady Strekalov - very much helped Sharma with empathetic support, which as well as through Sharma’s courage and persistence, allowed him to take a place in the cabin of “Soyuz T-11” spacecraft.
That flight was a standard “visiting mission” to the “Salyut-7” orbital station with the Soviet cosmonauts Leonid Kizim, Vladimir Solovyov and Oleg Atkov then onboard. But the extensive programme of scientific researches and experiments, some of which had been prepared by Indian experts, differentiated the mission from other similar flights. Basically there were medical researches including yoga methods application. Sharma had started a course on yoga exercises back on the Earth and continued doing it in space.
The following Indian programme experiments were of interest:
"Membrane" - studying of the mechanism of losing salts by human’s organism in weightlessness and development of effective ways to delay that process;
"Terra" - studying and inventory of natural resources of India, mapping;
"Overcooling" - studying of the phenomenon of overcooling at hardening of fused metals, and others.
Six days spent onboard “Salyut-7” passed all too quickly and on April 11th cosmonauts Malyshev, Strekalov and Sharma came back to the Earth, their spaceflight lasting for 7 days 21 hours 40 minutes 6 seconds.
On return from space Rakesh Sharma was celerbated as a cosmonaut. The Soviet government awarded the Indian cosmonaut the rank of Hero of the Soviet Union having handed over to him The Order of Lenin and “Gold Star” medal. The Indian government awarded him with order “Kirti Chakra”. The same awards were given to the Soviet cosmonauts.
Having come back home, Sharma continued his service in the Indian Air Force. He continued to fly, learning new aircraft techniques and retired with the rank of Colonel. But Sharma couldn’t leave the sky having taken off a military uniform and became a test pilot for the Indian company Hindustan Aeronautics in Bombay. He tested aircraft his country bought in the USSR and during one of flights he had to eject from a MiG-21 which then crashed.
When Rakesh Sharma left flying test aircraft he engaged himself with publicising the idea of continuing space exploration, lecturing in various audiences especially recently, after India had announced about its own plans for manned spaceflight.
Sharma became the first Indian to get into space. 13 years later Kalpana Chawla, an Indian born USA citizen flew in space too. Alas, last year’s Columbia tragedy killed this brave Indian woman.
But other Indian and citizens of other countries will follow Sharma and Chawla into space. Representatives of many countries dream to visit space and they will do it. The exploration of space cannot be stopped. Mankind has chosen this way and will never turn away from it.
("ORBIT", Journal of the Astro Space Stamp Society, Issue № 62, June 2004).