First non-superpower astronaut Remek says both sides used space exploration as propaganda

Thirty years ago Vladimír Remek became the first man in space who was not from either the United States or the Soviet Union. Remek became a hero not in only in his native Czechoslovakia but throughout the Eastern Bloc after taking part in an eight-day Soviet space mission in March 1978. The former cosmonaut spoke to me about his memories of that historic flight – and the propaganda which accompanied it

“My wish has come true, I’m a cosmonaut, I’d like to express my sincere thanks for this happy moment”. With those words Vladimír Remek addressed his compatriots in Czech from on board the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz 28, which began its mission on March 2, 1978. He was the first – and so far only – Czech in space.

“The best or nicest thing about my mission was the team-work. The crew were professional but also really enthusiastic…It was the first time somebody had flown in space who wasn’t from a superpower. To this day I’m glad about the work I did, and that Czechoslovakia became the third country to have a man in space.”

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Czechoslovakia’s Gustáv Husák greeted the cosmonauts by radio during their mission. The latter replied: long live socialist internationalism! Today, Mr Remek defends the propaganda aspect of the Soviet space programme.

“Space flights, especially the first cosmonauts and trips to the Moon, were always the subject of a kind of political propaganda, under both systems. But I can tell you that in the first few hours as we orbited the Earth we were picking up reports on our receiver and we knew that people around the world were talking about us…Our space flight was used as propaganda, but all such propaganda has to be based on work successfully carried out, which our flight was.”

Soyuz 28’s 190-hour mission took place a decade after Soviet tanks had rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring. Some suggest the Soviets selected a Czechoslovak cosmonaut in order to help soften anti-Russian feeling in the country.

Vladimír Remek,  photo: CTK
“I don’t think so. If the Soviet leaders had any problems at that time it wasn’t a sense of guilt for entering Czechoslovakia. It could’ve been partly political, but what was really important was that we were among the strongest partners in the Interkosmos programme, and our people were also on the UN space committee. And maybe we weren’t the worst among those who prepared for the flight!”

Vladimír Remek was a member of the pre-1989 Communist Party and has maintained his left-wing ideals; now 59, he is a member of the European Parliament for the present-day Czech Communist Party.