Page 19 - April 2021
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        An Indian in Space, Aboard India’s Own Spacecraft
Nearly four decades after the first Indian went to space, Gaganyaan is on its course to chart history
Rakesh Sharma in 1984
n Air Vice Marshal Suryakant Chafekar (Retd)
In 1984, when the then Prime Min- ister Indira Gandhi asked the first Indian astronaut in space what India looked like from above, he told her: “Sare jahan se achha (the best in the world).” The astronaut was Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma who flew aboard a Soyuz T11 spacecraft on April 2, 1984, and became the first Indian to journey into space. He spent 7 days, 21 hours and 40 minutes aboard the Salyut 7 orbital station along with two Soviet astronauts and till date, remains the only Indian to do so. Since then, it has taken almost 36 years for the country to plan to send
another Indian to space.
When the Gangayaan programme
was announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day address in 2018, Wg Cdr Rakesh Sharma had this to say, which sums up the entire nation’s sentiment. “It was an immense relief to hear the Prime Minis- ter announce that India will be sending a manned mission by 2022. I’ve been waiting for this kind of announcement because we have not had a manned space programme since I went up. I am extremely thrilled that it has finally happened.”
The most common query in the minds of most Indians is, why has it taken more than three decades to plan this mission? The major hurdles were the delay in sanctioning of budget required for the projects, the technical challenges involved, the time duration for training, and the human factor. How we have managed to overcome all these hurdles is likewise an important aspect.
The Soyuz T-11 crew, including Rakesh Sharma, at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow in 1984
A manned spacecraft would require about Rs 124 billion (US$1.77 billion) over a period of seven to eight years. The Government released Rs 500 million (US$7 million) in 2007-2008 but noth- ing much happened till 2018. In Decem- ber 2018, the government approved fur- ther Rs 100 billion (US$1.5 billion) for a 7-day crewed flight of three astronauts to take place by 2023. That is how the pro- gramme was kicked started again. It is equally important to know that prior to the manned spacecraft, two unmanned spacecrafts will be launched. So, one can imagine the finances involved. For a developing country like ours, its always difficult to balance out development and basic needs of its citizens. So, it’s a choice between basic needs and development.
We, as a country, had to indigenously manufacture a launch pad, propulsive systems, crew module, re-entry space
        Image Courtesy: Top left: Internet; Top right: Sputnik/ Aleksey Mokletsov

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