Astronauts Have No Borders

BUCHAREST, Romania – Between May 13-18 Bucharest was the 3rd most astronaut-populated place in the world after NASA and Star City in Moscow. 13 astronauts from 9 countries reunited in Bucharest to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the 1st Romanian space flight made by Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu.

On 14 May 1981, two astronauts left platform 14 on Baikonur cosmodrome. One was Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, a young lieutenant of the Romanian army and an engineer who specialized in aeronautics and had scored the highest results among all the non-Soviet astronauts during his training in Star City. The other was Leonid Popov, Soviet cosmonaut, the only one at that time who had hit the record of 185 days spent in space. They flew on Soyuz-40 space mission and docked on Saliut 6 – Saliut T 4 orbital space complex, as part of Interkosmos, a space exploration program of the former USSR which included also 13 non-Soviet astronauts.

“My 35th anniversary is special,” says Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, “because I have managed to bring in Bucharest many astronauts and cosmonauts from 8 countries. Their presence and their statements made here during these days prove that Space is an area of international cooperation for peaceful purposes and an area of people with deep understanding of planet Earth and the need to protect Earth.”

All these astronauts have amazing and inspirational stories.

Dumitru – Dorin Prunariu, the first and only Romanian astronaut, currently holds several high positions in the European Space Agency, as deputy-president of the International Relations Committee, and in the UN Space sub-committees in Vienna, as the Committee for Peaceful Use of the Outer Space and the committee for Asteroid Warning.

He is also the president of the European section of the Association of Space Explorers, the astronauts’ professional organization that includes 400 astronauts from 37 countries.

Georgi Ivanov is the first Bulgarian astronaut and Aleksandr Alexandrov is the second Bulgarian astronaut. Bertalan Farkas is the first Hungarian astronaut.

The Frenchman Jean-Pierre Haigniére is married to a female astronaut, thus making the world’s three couples of astronauts. He can fly any type of plane and he currently serves as advisor to the director of the European Space Agency. When asked what is the life of a “cosmic couple” like, Jean-Pierre Haigniére confesses that they face the same problems as ordinary people and being a space traveller does not help solve problems on Earth.

Michel Tognini, the second French astronaut, is the one who, during his second flight in space on Columbia space shuttle, placed Chandra observatory in orbit. He is currently working in research on planet Mars. When asked what impresses him most about space, he answered: “The Earth as a whole! There is no border. When you see the Earth, you only see the thin atmosphere layer between Earth and the Universe which keeps us alive.”

Reinhold Ewald was a member of the second German mission on MIR space station and director of the training and flight center of the European Space Agency. Reinhold also teaches in the University of Stuttgart, and has an inquisitive attitude which he offers through explanations for his undergraduates. He does not lose any opportunity to gather data and information. During visits, he always stays behind to ask and answer questions.

Gerhard Thiele from Germany is currently the head of the Manned Flights Planning Office of the European Space Agency. Gerhard is also thirsty for new information and is always seeking information.

Helen Sharman, the first British female astronaut and the first female astronaut on MIR station, encourages people to follow their dreams. She became an astronaut after answering a contest on the radio and competed with 13,000 candidates. Helen says “in space there is no gender difference and women do not face particular biological challenges, on the contrary, the shorter distance between heart and brain makes it easier for women than for men in space. However, radiation affects humans. On short term, it is easier for women. On longer term, it is thought to affect genes and reproduction.”

André Kuipers, the second astronaut from the Netherlands, sends amazing photos from space. He is able to grasp breath-taking details of planet Earth. The photos reflect his love for Earth which is also reflected in his propensity to encourage strong education for the younger generation.

Valeri Korzun, the commander of the astronauts’ detachment in Star City in Russia, confesses:”It is not easy to be the commander of Star City – now I have 36 cosmonauts, half of them Heroes of Russia! It is difficult to control this group!” says Valeri and then bursts into laughter. “Before we used to be military, it was easier to control them, now we are civilian and they are spread, not so many remain in Star City when they don’t train. I control every step they take, from selection to launch, their training, their personal problems, in a direct relation, no intermediate level. I am their father, I know everything. Once a week we have a meeting with all, otherwise, on one-to-one basis, for exams, training in simulator…”

Richard Richards was a commander in 3 out of 4 space missions on Columbia and Discovery space-shuttles from the USA. He is very modest. He says that he was in command so many times because ”NASA was very good to me. My first flight was in March, 1996, right after the loss of Challenger in January, and I tried to help, and NASA appreciated so they put me in command. The biggest challenge as a commander is to assign the crew tasks where their strengths are maximized but since I had a wonderful crew, I didn’t have to work so hard, they were all motivated…The only special situation I encountered was on my 3rd flight when I had to land on Edwards Airforce base and there was a cyclone in Southern California, with 400 thunderstorms embedded in it, so Houston said in the last minute: Let’s land in Florida! That was an apprehensive situation!” says Richard laughing.

Astronauts may look like ordinary people but they are not.

I noticed that when astronauts are 63-67 years old they climbed 6 floors in a building within 30 seconds. I became more aware of their special characteristics through the way they become informed, corroborate data and react to the unexpected.

Astronauts suggest that the world actually has no borders.

First, many of them speak Russian, the working language on board host space shuttles and space stations where several nationalities work together irrespective of their politics. In the future, many young astronauts will probably speak Chinese.

According to Dumitru – Dorin Prunariu, China has invited other nations to work on its international space station, currently being built, to be launched in 2020, and young European astronauts are currently learning Chinese.

Second, all the astronauts say that they see no borders on Earth but a unified world, fragile, covered only by a thin layer of atmosphere, with lots of threats posed by the Universe, and urge people and leaders to look after it and protect it.