On March 2 1978 - for the first time - a person was launched into space who was neither a Soviet nor an American citizen. His name was Vladimír Remek, and he came from Czechoslovakia. Millions of Czechs and Slovaks had the chance to follow the event live both on radio and television, and it was even celebrated in song:
The ship with the red star was Soyuz 28, the third mission to dock with the Soviet space station Salyut 6. The flight marked the beginning of the Intercosmos programme, which aimed to give the Soviet Union’s Eastern Bloc allies access to space.
The launch took place at 15.28 UTC from a site in Kazakhstan and Czechoslovak Radio’s Ilja Jenča described the scene, as the sky lit up and the rocket rose into the heavens. As the faces of the two cosmonauts on board, Vladimír Remek and his Russian commander Alexei Gubarev, appeared on the monitor in front of him, he waxed lyrical:
“They look like two brothers - or even twins - in their spacesuits and helmets, representing two brother socialist countries - cosmic brothers - the symbolism mingles with reality.”
Soyuz 28 linked up successfully with the Salyut 6 space station, and Remek and Gubarev remained in orbit for nearly eight days, joining the two cosmonauts already at the station. Remek addressed the people of Czechoslovakia in Czech.
He began by thanking the central committee of the Soviet Communist Party, the politburo and Comrade Brezhnev, and then went on to talk of the symbolism in the fact that the flight coincided with the 30th anniversary of the communist take-over in Czechoslovakia:
“It was back then, in those victorious days of February 1948, that our flight into the cosmos really began, and now here I am in space with my friends.”
And Remek ended by greeting his compatriots back in Czechoslovakia, with the final words “See you back on Earth.”
The two-man crew of Soyuz 28 returned to Earth safely at 13.44 UTC on March 10 1978. The exhausted Vladimír Remek had just a few, very brief words for the Czech and Slovak radio and TV crews:
“I’m glad we’ve got it over with, the landing was quite smooth, I’m glad to be back. Thank you.”
Over 30 years later Vladimír Remek now represents the Communist Party in
the European Parliament, retaining the political beliefs of his young days
as the first and last Czechoslovak cosmonaut.
The episode featured today was first broadcast on April 23, 2009.
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