Only Czech in space Remek recalls historic flight, 40 years on

Vladimír Remek, photo: Štěpánka Budková

Friday is the 40th anniversary of the day Vladimír Remek became the first, and so far only, Czech in space. In fact the cosmonaut was the first non-citizen of the US or USSR to leave the earth’s atmosphere when he took part in the Soviet Union’s Soyuz 28 mission in 1978.

Vladimír Remek,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
On March 2, 1978 the Soyuz 28 space ship took off from Kazakhstan. It was the first mission in the Intercosmos programme, intended to give the Soviets’ Eastern Bloc allies access to space.

On board were Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Gubarev and Vladimír Remek, the first, and so far only, Czech in space.

Speaking to the nation from Soyuz 28, Remek, naturally a party member, made reference to the Communist takeover of 30 years previously.

“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.”

Today aged 69, Remek says he first caught the space bug as a boy, when he saw the Russians’ Sputnik 1 satellite, launched in 1957, in the night sky.

“It influenced my life. Then when Gagarin made his first space flight I was 13 years old. We lived in Brno and I used to go to an astronomy club at the planetarium. And like many young boys at that time, I too wanted to become a cosmonaut.”

Remek was the first person from outside the two then superpowers to leave the earth’s atmosphere and still takes pride in the fact Czechoslovakia “came third”.

“Before me there was the same number of Soviet and US cosmonauts, 43. So I became the 87th earthling to see our planet from outer space. I felt I was doing something for my country. It was, to use sporting terminology, a place on the podium, third spot. I was proud of the opportunity and that I’d fulfilled a boyhood dream. I saw in many ways how it had boosted the visibility of Czechoslovakia around the world.”

Vladimír Remek,  Aleksei Gubarev,  photo: Czech Television
Remek’s father was Slovak while his mother was Czech. However, he plays down suggestions that it was this combination that helped win him a place on Soyuz 28, which successfully docked with the Salyut 6 space station during its eight-day mission.

“There were several stages in the selection and preparation process and a great many different factors were weighed up. And the fact I came from a mixed Czech-Slovak family was definitely not one of the most important ones, although it may have been a plus for some people.”

In later years Vladimír Remek was an MEP for the Communist Party and served as Czech ambassador to Moscow.