The One We Forgot: An Indian Who Almost Made It To Space

Has it ever happened to you that you really worked hard and yet someone else got the job. Well, what was the first thing that crossed your mind? I am sure, at one point you must have thought yourself as not lucky enough but it is okay everyone feels that. Your misfortune in comparison to the story that you are about to read, may look miniscule. In our endeavor to make you feel a little better, here’s presenting you with an interesting, history changing story.

With the talks of Gaganyaan, India’s first manned mission to space, the memories of Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space comes to mind. He is a former Indian Air Force pilot who flew aboard Soyuz T-11, launched on 2 April 1984, as part of the Intercosmos programme. Did you know, if things worked out for a certain gentleman, instead of Rakesh Sharma, the whole nation would have been rallying around him? This gentleman is Air Commodore (Retd) Ravish Malhotra.

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Ravish Malhotra (born 25 December 1943) was born in Lahore, British India. Though he retired as an Air Commodore of the Indian Air Force, Ravish always wanted  to join in the Navy. “For some reason, I wanted to join the navy. When I went for the selection, they said my eyesight was not good enough for the navy, but good enough for the air force. They were running short of air force cadets. So, I said alright and that’s how I joined the air force and the fighter stream,” he said in an interview with Quint.

He is considered a hero in air force circles because he fought brilliantly in the 1971 Indo-Pak war and even had a close call while attacking some tanks in Chamb-Jaurian sector in West Pakistan, he faced heavy anti-aircraft gunfire. But he managed to survive the onslaught. 

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In 1982, from a group of 20 pilots, he was chosen along with 3 other pilots. After the medical tests in Russia, the duo Ravish and Rakesh were selected for a training which lasted for 2 years. They were taught everything from tech to learning Russian. Russian language because from instrumentation to marking on the spacecraft, everything was in Russian. The two pilots were trained to undertake several missions in space, one which included testing the effects of yoga in space. Both successfully completed the extremely demanding training schedule with credit and distinction.

After they had completed half of the training, it was decided that Rakesh would be in the main team and Ravish would be the backup. “I was disappointed, but you accept it and move on with the mission,” said Malhotra. Thus, Malhotra served as backup for Rakesh Sharma on the Soyuz T-11 mission which launched the first Indian into space, but never went to space himself. Malhotra was then awarded the Kirti Chakra in 1984.

Picture source : Spacefacts; India times, Indian air force

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