By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News ServiceBangalore: April 3, 1984. Seven days, 21 hours and 40 minutes. The time logged by India's first man in space Rakesh Sharma. After his spacecraft Soyuz T-11 docked at the Salut 7 station, the research cosmonaut sent the famous Saare Jahan Se Achcha message to the earth.
Twenty-eight years later, the retired Wing Commander, now settled in Coonoor (near Ooty) tells Express that India missed an opportunity. “We haven't moved on. We are still sitting pretty and talking about yesterday's glory. Not enough is being done on the manned space flight front,” the 128th man in space, blasted off in his inimitable style.
He said European nations have made inroads with their astronauts training with the Americans and Russians. "Before long, the European Space Agency (ESA) had a core group of astronauts doing duty on the International Space Station (ISS). We should have done the same and by now we would have the same expertise waiting to do duty in our manned space programme. Funding is the key and that seems to be too little and is trickling in too late,” Rakesh said, adding: “We have a long way to go. We have to get our act together and work according to a perspective plan that obtains funding when required by milestones given in it.”
He said it was part of ISRO's job to convince the government as to why a manned space mission is required. “The mandate is with ISRO and they will have to take the lead. The government is definitely lacking in its own vision and none seems to be inclined to convince them. Projects of this kind cannot sputter along and move in fits and starts as and when funding arrives. A certain intensity needs to be generated amongst the team. It needs to feed off the josh of doing something challenging that has never been done before.You cannot move incrementally here. I don't see that happening."
When asked whether he would be happy to chip in with ideas for India's manned space mission, Rakesh said he is ready, but wouldn't muscle his way in. “If they need me, I'm available. People developing the spacecraft do approach me and I am sharing my knowledge. As of now, I am not in the loop, have never been ever since 1984. I am totally disconnected,” he said.
On the 28th anniversary of his historic mission, Rakesh said it has become a non-event in India now. “I had gone to Russia for the 25th anniversary celebrations. It is going to be just another day for me here. I am happy here, reading, writing and gardening,” Rakesh said.
At 63, may be he feels Coonoor is indeed Saare Jahan Se Achcha.
Copyright@The New Indian Express