Rakesh Sharma, India's first and the only cosmonaut, will join a select group of Indians when the International Forest of Friendship honors the retired Indian Air Force Wing Commander in Kansas next month.
The IFF, a growing memorial to the world history of aviation and aerospace, will honor Sharma who went to space in 1984 during the joint Indo-Soviet Space Mission, on June 18.
"He will be honored for being the first cosmonaut of India and his many contributions to aviation," Chandra Bhudhabhatti president of the Indian Women's Pilot Association and vice-governor of the Ninety Nines, India Section, told rediff.com Monday. The Ninety Nines is part of the IFF.
Bhudhabhatti, who also serves on the advisory board of IFF, said that the decision to honor Sharma was taken at an IIF board meeting following the recommendation of IWPA to IIF co-chairman Linton Wells. "The IIF said that it would actually be greatly honored to bestow the honor on the 56-year-old cosmonaut, about whom not many people know outside India,"
The IFF honors those men and women who have given dedicated service, leadership and helped others achieve aviation goals. The honorees include writers and educators who have spent their lives encouraging others to fly, and not necessarily pilots.
Among those from India who had been honored by IFF along side Wright brothers, Chuck Yeager and Sally Ride, include JRD Tata, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Captains Saudamini Deshmukh and Nivedita Jain Bhasin, business tycoon Vijaypat Singhania and the first Indian American astronaut Kalpana Chawla, who died in the Columbia space shuttle crash in 2002.
Sharma, who retired from in July 2001 after spending 24 years in flight testing, has flown over 4,000 hours on various types of aircraft during his 33-year-long career.
The India Section of Ninety Nines came into being in 1966 when one of its members Isabelle McCray visited Bombay to invite women fliers to join the 99s.