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NASA Administrator Bill Nelson meets Rakesh Sharma, first Indian to fly in space, in Bengaluru

Rakesh Sharma went on to become the first Indian citizen to reach outer space on April 2, 1984, when he flew aboard the Soviet rocket Soyuz T-11 launched from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome. Nelson is on his maiden visit to India to oversee the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR).

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Bengaluru Published on: November 30, 2023 16:18 IST
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson with Indian astronaut Rakesh
Image Source : BILL NELSON/X NASA Administrator Bill Nelson with Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Senator Bill Nelson on Wednesday met students at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian astronaut to fly in space, in Bengaluru during his maiden visit to India.

Taking to X, Nelson said, "It was a great honor to speak with students in Bengaluru today with Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian to fly to space. His story lit up the room! To the Artemis Generation in India and beyond: Work hard, dream big, and reach for the stars. The universe is the limit!"

Rakesh Sharma went on to become the first Indian citizen to reach outer space on April 2, 1984, when he flew aboard the Soviet rocket Soyuz T-11 launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.

Sharma spent 7 days, 21 hours and 40 minutes in space and took India to become the 14th nation to travel to outer space. His work focused mainly in the fields of bio-medicine and remote sensing, while he also conducted several scientific studies and experiments. In response to then-PM Indira Gandhi's question on India looked from outer space, Sharma said "Saare Jahaan Se Achcha".

India a leader in space: Nelson

Nelson said that he will visit ISRO with Sharma on Thursday to see the low earth orbit observatory, NISAR, being jointly developed by both space agencies. The NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) is slated to be launched in the first quarter of 2024, according to NASA officials.

NISAR will map the entire globe in 12 days and provide spatially and temporally consistent data for understanding changes in Earth’s ecosystems, ice mass, vegetation biomass, sea level rise, ground water and natural hazards including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides.

“NISAR is going to look at changes on anything on the Earth's surface. If it's in the water, if it’s in the land such as an earthquake, if it's in the ice, and of course, unfortunately, we've got the melting of ice that's going on as the Earth heats up," he said.

The NASA administrator also said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden are working out details as per an agreement to help and train Indian astronauts to fly out to the International Space Station by 2024. "We expected that it will be late in 2024 or in other words, about a year from now," he added.

Nelson touched down in India on Tuesday and was welcomed by US envoy Eric Garcetti, as the Senator expressed his enthusiasm for a week of meetings and events aimed at strengthening the partnership between NASA and ISRO. He emphasised that India is a leader in space and is looking forward to a productive visit.

Nelson's visit comes amid the growing interest and investment in space exploration, with India making great strides in the global space race. On August 23, India scripted history with the successful soft-landing of the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the Moon's south pole. Not only did it become the first nation in the world to reach the lunar south pole, it is the fourth country behind the United States, China and the erstwhile Soviet Union to reach the Moon.

(with inputs from agencies)

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