40 Years since the First Romanian Flew into Space

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On 14 May 1981 Romania was sending the first cosmonaut in space, becoming the 11th country in the world to do this. Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu became the 103-rd person in the world that achieved this milestone. Currently, there are 566 astronauts from 38 states that flew in the cosmos.

Romania started selecting cosmonauts in 1997, as at the time it has been part of the intergovernmental Intercosmos agreement between socialists countries starting 1968. Out of 7 finalists, Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu and Dumitru Dediu were selected. The two Romanian candidates started the actual preparations in 1978 in Star city, Russia. For two years, they attended theoretical classes and performed, at the same time, flight training in jet planes, parachute jumps, training plane-simulated weightlessness and preparing for various landing scenarios. Hundreds of hours in the simulator followed. The Romanian researchers that had proposed 11 experiments arrived at the Star city and prepared the cosmonauts for these space experiments.

The launch took place on 14 May 1981 at 20:16 Romanian time, with the Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu and the Russian commander Leonid Popov on board. After 8 minutes and 50 seconds, the spacecraft separated from the last stage. 28 hours passed before the coupling with the orbital station, during which the cosmonauts made two orbital maneuvers, tested the systems of the ship and also had some time to rest. The Soyuz 40 spacecraft coupled with the Salyut 6 orbital station on 15 May at 21:50 Romanian time.

Together with the station crew — the pilot-cosmonaut Vladimir Vasilievici Kovalionok, seconded by the pilot-cosmonaut Victor Petrovici Savinîh — they ran a number of 11 Romanian scientific experiments during the flight, four experiments from flight partners and several other experiments that were ongoing from other Intercosmos crews. The experiments were on Physics, Space Technology, Medicine and Biology topics. They included the study of Earth’s magnetic field and its influence on living organisms, identifying new forms of existence of nuclear matter, investigating changes in cerebral, central and peripheral blood flow, as well as psychological tests.

Among the Romanian experiments were:

  • the ASTRO experiment (IFIN-CASS-FAN collaboration) highlighted the presence of incompletely ionized atoms in space and the study of their properties (charge, energy, new types of ions) and their interactions. The experiment included two components, ASTRO-I and ASTRO-II, with the devices being placed outside and inside the spacecraft, respectively. The components of very complex devices which, in addition to the conditions of selectivity and sensitivity, had to meet special conditions of sturdiness, size and weight, or of low electricity consumption, were assembled and mounted on board the station;
  • the NANOBALANTA experiment proposed by ITIM focused on the stability of the protective layers of silicon dioxide deposited on the optical components of the space station (windows, lenses, solar cells, etc.) under the influence of the cosmic environment (radiation, solid microparticles, temperature variations). For this purpose, the deposited protective layer was used as a resonator and the changes were monitored through the effect on the resonator frequency.
  • the BIODOSE experiment proposed by CASS-IFIN was set up to characterise the irradiation inside the orbital station. The experiment consisted of two components: INTEGRAL, which aimed at measuring the flow of heavy ions in different areas of the working compartment and MINI-DOSE-178, which focused on proton fluxes to characterise cosmic radiation belts.

The mission of the two cosmonauts ended on 22 May. After they uncoupled from the orbital station, they completed a full tour of its exterior to take photos in order to show other experts the status of the exterior orbital complex, after 3.5 years of space flight. The return to Earth of the Soyuz-40 mission took place on 22 May 1981, at 16:58 local time in Romania, after 7 days, 20 hours, 41 minutes and 52 seconds spent in space. During his space flight Dumitru Prunariu traveled a length of 5.226.000 km at a maximum altitude of 384 km.

“The cosmic flight, as a human experience, was unique. I still feel emotional during anniversary moments, and now, when the date of the launch is approaching, I almost feel that shiver that I felt when the spacecraft left platform 17 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome and, consuming 270 tons of fuel in 8 minutes and 50 seconds, placed me and my flight partner Leonid Popov on a circumterrestrial orbit, at an altitude of about 200 km, moving with a speed of 28.000 km/h around the Earth. For me, it was a unique experience that we hope to repeat by another Romanian in the foreseeable future”, said Dumitru Dorin Prunariu.

During the ROSA event that marked this historical moment, the President of the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA), Dr. Phys Marius-Ioan Piso, emphasised the importance of the first humans to fly in space in the testing and perfecting human exploration methods and technologies on the Low Earth Orbit. In particular, Mr. Piso underlined the important role that Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu had in the setting up of the Romanian Space Agency in the 90’s and the development of the Romanian space ecosystem in the years to follow, as the first Romanian cosmonaut, but also as an expert, through his technical and scientific expertise.

The President of the Romanian Space Agency also reminded some of the key aspects related to Romania’s role in the space economy. “We have approximately 1800 experts working in this domain, in over 100 organisations. The Romanian flag is on the Ariane 6 rocket, the newest European launcher, together with the flag of other 11 European countries. We offer space services and are involved in the two areas of space security. In the area of security for space, Romania together with other seven European states, is part of the SST European Consortium. Recently, the Romanian sensors obtained the first and the only image of the Chinese rocket body reentry in the last part of its orbit, rocket that had placed the first module of the Chinese space station on orbit. In the domain of citizen security, we are involved in monitoring natural disasters, environmental issues and space debris”, said Mr. Piso. “When it comes to legislation, we have taken several important steps, such as including space infrastructure in the list of critical Romanian infrastructure. We also have a strategy at a political level: we are the only country that, in the space of 15 years, has had the Presidency of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space twice. We are also part of the leadership of the International Academy of Astronautics. These are key roles that emphasise the international positioning of Romania in this domain”, he continued. “However, the most important objective of the space program remains to be able to retain or bring young people in the country, where they can develop a successful scientific or technological career”, concluded Mr. Piso.

Sergey Ryshkov, the commander of the International Space Station during the 64th Expedition, and the Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi have sent a message from space to Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu and Leonid Popov, thanking them for the collaboration that they started in that period and that is continued up until today on the ISS.

More anniversary events are taking place these days. You can find more information about them at this link.

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