While the current space-war to colonise Moon and Mars is largely on between America, China, and Russia, Indians found a moment of celebration when NASA named Indian-American US Air Force Colonel Raja Jon Vurputoor Chari for its future moon mission.
On December 9, NASA announced Chari as one of the 18 people shortlisted for the ambitious manned-mission to moon – the Artemis Team. The mission is being touted as the first ever mission to put a woman on the Moon and further develop the aim to have a sustainable “colony” on the surface.
However, India is not far behind as we are planning our own manned mission to space with Gaganyaan project. While the astronauts train for India’s first crewed space mission, here are three other Indian-origin astronauts who have gone on various space mission in the past:
Sunita Williams – 2007
Born Sunita Pandya, Sunita Williams was the second woman of Indian origin to go to space. Not only that, she held the record for longest spaceflight for a female space traveller. Additionally, she held the record for most spacewalks taken by a woman as well as the most spacewalking time by a woman. She is also the first ever person to “run a marathon” in space.
Before becoming an astronaut, Williams was a Naval officer in the United States. Unlike the other two astronauts on this list, Williams was born in the US and was a natural-born citizen there. Her father was Indian origin while her mother was Slovene.
Kalpana Chawla – 1997, 2003
The first ever woman of Indian origin to visit space was Kalpana Chawla. Born in Karnal, Punjab, Chawla went to America to study engineering in Texas. She ultimately received a PhD in aerospace engineering and thus began her journey toward space.
She was one of the six-member crew on STS-87 in 1997 and travelled over 10.4 million miles. Her second mission was STS-107 in 2003. The fatal mission ended in disaster when the shuttle disintegrated while re-entering Earth after a successful mission in space.
Chawla was awarded Congressional Space Medal of Honour, posthumously. At the time of her death, she was a US citizen.
Rakesh Sharma – 1984
Every child in school had to answer this question in General Knowledge exams – who was the first Indian man is space? Astronaut Rakesh Sharma made history when he was selected by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Soviet Intercosmos space programme for a joint mission to the space.
Sharma was a member of the Indian Air Force before his journey into the cosmos, he fought in the war of 1971. For his journey aboard the Soviet Soyuz T-11 rocket to the space station Salyut 7, he was granted high honours like “Hero of Soviet Union” (first Indian to win the honour) and Ashok Chakra in India.