Born on 13th January 1949 in Patiala, Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma was a test pilot in the IAF. He was selected on 20th September 1982 to become a cosmonaut. In 1984 he became the first citizen of India to go into space when he flew aboard the Russian rocket Soyuz T-11. The take-off from Baikonur in Moscow on April 2, 1984 was a high point in Indo-Soviet relations.
The Soyuz T-11 docked and transfered the three member Soviet-Indian international crew which also included the Ship's Commander Y.V. Malyshev and Flight Engineer G.M. Strekalov (USSR) to the SALYUT-7 Orbital Station. The crew spent seven days aboard the Salyut space station during which they conducted scientific and technical studies which included 43 experimental sessions. Sharma used Yoga techniques to combat the debilitating effects of weightlessness. His work was mainly in the fields of bio-medicine and remote sensing.
The crew held a joint television news conference with officials in Moscow and Prime Minister Gandhi. "Saare jahan se achcha", said Sqn Ldr Sharma when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked him how India looked from outer space. That was also a proud moment for millions of Indians who watched India become the 14th nation to send a man to outer space.
Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma was awarded the Ashoka Chakra, for the sucessful completion of the Space Mission. As were his Russian companions Malyshev and Strekalov. This is the first and the only time, the Ashoka Chakra was awarded to foreigners.
Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma later joined HAL as a Test Pilot and was involved in the testing of various aircraft being manufactured at Ojhar near Nasik. During this time he had a lucky escape when he had to eject from a MiG-21.