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4 Apr, 2024 10:10

Russia and India celebrate 40 years since first space flight together

Rakesh Sharma flew aboard the USSR’s Soyuz T-11 in April 1984
Russia and India celebrate 40 years since first space flight together

April 3, 1984 marked a pivotal moment for Indian-Russian relations. Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian astronaut in space aboard the Soviet Union’s Soyuz T-11. Forty years later, Sharma and his Russian colleague, cosmonaut Oleg Atkov – the mission’s medical specialist – exchanged greetings virtually.

“These 40 years have been productive for our country and our relationship with the then-Soviet Union and present Russia,” Sharma, now 75 and living in Bangalore, said, addressing the anniversary event organized on Wednesday by the Russian mission in New Delhi virtually. 

Asked by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi four decades ago how India looks from space, Sharma famously remarked, “saare jahaan se achcha” (the best in the world). Sharma spent 7 days, 21 hours, and 40 minutes in space and conducted scientific studies and experiments.

“Rakesh has always been a very positive person. After docking, he flew into our station smiling. The smile always stayed on his face the whole time,” Atkov said in a virtual message recorded by RT and aired at the anniversary event organized by the Russian mission in India. 

“Rakesh, for a long time, we didn’t have a chance to see each other, and that’s a pity. Let’s try and find a place for the next meeting,” Atkov told his Indian colleague.

On the 40th anniversary of the flight, Russia’s ambassador to India, Denis Alipov, congratulated Sharma and all Indians. Posting on X (formerly Twitter), the Indian Embassy in Russia noted “the heroic flight into space.” 

As part of the celebration of space exploration and international collaboration, the Russian Houses in New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, and Trivandrum are hosting a photo exhibition devoted to India’s first cosmonaut. It includes 40 photographs, telling the story of the preparation for the flight of the Soviet-Indian crew, the stay of the Indian cosmonaut aboard the Salyut 7 station, as well as the return to Earth.

Russian deputy envoy Roman Babushkin, speaking at an event in New Delhi, noted that Russia, as a pioneer in space exploration, has always supported India. In 1975, the Soviet Union helped launch Aryabhata – India’s first satellite. The second satellite, Bhaskara, was also launched by the USSR, in 1979.

“Now, India, having developed a powerful national space program, rightfully enjoys the status of a space superpower, with a good reputation as a reliable and preferred global partner in the field of space science and satellite launch,” Babushkin was quoted by TASS as saying.  

The diplomat noted that the current partnership between the Russian and Indian space agencies includes space propulsion engineering, cryogen engine construction, satellite navigation, and establishing ground stations for receiving communication systems.

“Russia has always favored Indian success,” Babushkin said, praising the country’s latest achievements in space exploration. He underscored the success of the Chandrayaan-3 mission to the Moon last year and the ongoing human spaceflight mission, Gaganyaan, which is expected to take off next year.

The names of four Indian astronauts who will travel to space aboard the country’s first manned space mission were announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February. Like Sharma, they were trained at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City near Moscow in 2020. With Gaganyaan, India will test its spaceflight capability by launching a crew into orbit for three days and bringing them safely back to Earth.

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