The launch campaign relating to the 50th anniv celebrations of Yuri Gagarin's flight is steadily gathering momentum and one looks forward to the main function on April 12,2011. This was the day in 1961 when Gagarin flew in space for 108 minutes opening a challenging new era of manned space exploration.
As the celebrations to mark the historic event are being organised mainly by the Russian Embassy in New Delhi and the Russian consulates, one person we associate with these programmes is the country's first spaceman, Rakesh Sharma, who was a part of the joint Indo-Soviet Joint Manned Space mission in April 1984. He is scheduled to be the chief guest at the function in New Delhi and perhaps even in Mumbai.
Now it is the 50th anniv of Gagarin's flight. But, on April 3,2009, to mark the 25th anniv of Rakesh Sharma's flight the Hyderabad-based Planetary Society,India, designed a very informative website about the mission which can be accessed on indonaut.tk. It contains interesting details about various aspects of the flight like the Salyut-7 space station and the launch vehicle. Be sure that spacebuffs like ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' will endlessly access the site. It is extremely educative. Hats off to the designers especially the society's secretary, N. Sri Raghundan Kuman whom we shall hereafter call Raghu for short and also for the sake of informality.
There is a special section for school kids along with a video.
Now Raghu has come up with another good idea. He is about to launch a project which is long overdue and BMM will extend its full support to it. What is this plan? Starting an on line petition to request the government of India to confer the prestigious Bharat Ratna, the nation's highest award, on Rakesh Sharma, who has brought honour to this country.After all if Sunita Williams, the Indo-American astronaut, an US citizen, can be presented the Padma Bhushan then does not Rakesh Sharma, a true India, qualify for the Bharat Ratna? Sure he does. BMM looks forward to a feedback on this issue.
The Bharat Ratna is well deserved for Rakesh Sharma because he was chosen for the manned space mission after an extremely tough selection process. BMM's aunt, Vimala, a Hyderabad resident, who is deeply interested in space and astronomy has agreed to sign the petition. When BMM informed her about Raghu's proposal on Wednesday, her instant response was: ``Sure, Rakesh deserves it.'' Another person who has agreed to sign is secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas.
Gagarin had played a key role in strengthening Indo-Soviet space ties during his visit to India after his flight. This was further enhanced during the Rakesh Sharma's mission. So what better opportunity to announce the Bharat Ratna for Rakesh Sharma than the 50th anniv of Gagarin's flight?
BMM's dad and Rakesh Sharma were simultaneously honoured by the prestigious Sri Venkateshwara University in Thirupathi some years ago. As a part of the felicitation, they were each presented with a huge and powerful figure of Lord Balaji. BMM's mom recalls Rakesh Sharma carrying this figure for them during the flight from Thirupathi to Chennai. This lovely figure occupies a prominent place at BMM's home in Mumbai.
BMM has had the opportunity to interact with the cosmonaut on several occasions seeking his comments for articles on space-related issues especially manned space flight. BMM found him to be extremely co-operative, friendly, affable and pleasant. When BMM requested him to write a preface for its book ``Moonshot India,'' which is about the Chandrayaan-1 mission, he readily agreed.
In frequent interviews with BMM, Rakesh Sharma, had vigorously spoken about India embarking on a manned space flight programme. Despite this the government has yet to give its formal green signal. The reason for the delay is perhaps understandable---Isro has yet to provide a clear road map about its human space flight programme. In this respect it could perhaps emulate the example of the Chinese.
More recently, the India chapter of Moon Society had requested Rakesh Sharma to give his views about the nation's future lunar plans post Chandrayaan-2. He was the first to submit them. His analysis is significant and important because he was among those who gave the thumbs up for the Chandrayaan-1 mission. BMM recalls attending his infomative presentation regarding lunar settlement during the International Astronautical Congress at Hyderabad in September 2007.
BMM has a book called Indo-Soviet Joint Space Odyssey which is about the flight of Rakesh Sharma. It is autographed by Rakesh Sharma and Yuri Malyshev, one of the crew members. It was published by the Space Cell of the Air Headquarters in October 1985 and was not available at bookstores. It was presented to BMM by former director of Nehru Planetarium, V.S.Venkatavaradhan. It is one of BMM's prize possessions. Thank You Venkat.
Sometime back a New Delhi-based publisher told BMM that Rakesh Sharma was planning to write his autobiography. When BMM asked him about this book, Rakesh Sharma replied: ``Maybe after my retirement.''
He has shifted from Bangalore and is now settled in Wellingdon in the Nilgiris. We, therefore, look forward to his autobiography. He is undoubtedly a force to reckon with in not only India's space programme, but globally as well. Who is then better deserving of the Bharat Ratna than Rakesh Sharma?
Congrats to Raghu on initiating the move.
Remember we are with you on this issue.