Dumitru Prunariu, the only Romanian to fly into outer space, on Tuesday evening was the guest of honour of the 3rd edition of the Illustrious Seniors Gala organised by the Institute for Active Aging Association at the Elisabeta Theatre House in Bucharest, according to Agerpres.
He shared with the approximately one hundred participants his experience in outer space, and also how he came to be selected for the flight and the preparations he had to make. He also talked about what experiments he did in space and the reasons why there were no more manned flights to the moon.
„We were part of a government programme when I was selected to fly into outer space under the Intercosmos programme. It was a programme coordinated by the Soviet Union at the time; it included all the partner countries, and so they started flying into outer space in 1978. The first European cosmonaut was from then Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic (…) after that a Pole followed, a German from Democratic Germany and only in 1983 did another non-American astronaut fly aboard the American space shuttle, an astronaut from West Germany. (…) I represented Romania in 1981; Romania was the 11th country in the world to send a human message into outer space, including Russia and America, and I was the 103rd in the world at that time, now there are 600 astronauts all over the world,” said Prunariu.
He spoke about how he passed all the medical examinations and how he ended up being among the two candidates fit to fly in outer space.
„While I was a military conscript, right after college, the commander of the unit in Bacau, where I was assigned for military training as an aviation engineer, came up and said that Romania is participating in a piloted programme to investigate outer space and volunteers are being sought. We remained awestruck, shocked: do we have what it takes to reach the outer space? And he asked who wanted to volunteer (…) The commander stimulated us with other proposals and told us that whoever wants to volunteer will be taken to Bucharest on a military transport plane (…), a complete medical examination will be performed at the Military Hospital (…). And I raised my hand and said ‘I am a volunteer!’. (…) I was declared accepted. (…) In the end there were five of us, then three. Three of us went for a full medical examination at the Institute of Medical-Biological Studies in the Field of Aviation and Astronautics in Moscow, and from there two we returned as ‘fit to carry out the full preparation for the cosmic flight,'” Prunariu said.
The hardest moment he felt in his flight around the Earth was during the landing.
„The most difficult moment was during the return. Everything was timed to the second. The countdown starts from the moment the rocket leaves the launch pad, and the timer closes the moment the ship with the staff on board touches the Earth. The launch is the same as with a plane. (…) However, upon landing, somewhere closer to the Earth, we realised that our parachute had a problem, that it did not open on time, we were timing already the seconds that had passed since the moment when the parachute had to open, we had cold sweats, we were looking at each other, we were communicating with those on the ground by radio, suddenly there was silence in that room and everyone was waiting for an outcome : we either make a hole on landing or the parachute opens and we land smoothly. And finally, the parachute did open, there was a ‘Hurray!’ in our headphones from ground control, and we breathed a sigh of relief. After a few minutes, we reached the ground safely,” he also said.
The Romanian cosmonaut also explained why in the last 50 years no manned flights to the Moon were scheduled.
„Fifty years ago the last manned flight to the Moon was carried out. The American ship Apollo 17 landed on the Moon, American pilots walked on the moon with a Rover, returned to Earth bringing samples of lunar soil, did experiments on the surface of the Moon and since then the Moon has not been reached. Many wonder why. (…) Since then, NASA [National Space Agency] – NASA has the largest budget allocated for outer space in the world, a budget that exceeds the sum of many budgets of other countries that deal with intense space activities, including Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan, China – considered that the budget should be allocated to other priority programmes. Those other programmes were the Space Shuttle, later the International Space Station, which is still in orbit and whose life is proposed to be extended throughout 2030. The 18 billion US dollars allocated annually to the American Space Agency were enough only for those programmes, they was no longer enough money for the Moon,” Prunariu underscored.
Asked if he believes in extraterrestrials, Prunariu said that he is convinced that there is life on other planets.
„I am convinced that there is extraterrestrial life somewhere on other planets, in other galaxies. I do not think that we are the only ones in the Universe who are alive and intelligent. Whether or not they have arrived on Earth, whether or not something has happened is a completely different issue. So the basic, conceptual problem is that life exists elsewhere in the Universe. For now, we’re looking for points of ancestral life on Mars – and they’re looking hard. Scientists are convinced that about three million years ago Mars was a living planet,” said Prunariu.
Actress Doina Ghitescu dedicated a poem to Prunariu and handed him an honorary diploma from the Omenia International Foundation.
At the end of the event, the organisers presented Dumitru Prunariu with a plaque with the message: „For the remarkable activity carried out for the promotion of science, carrying an entire Romania beyond the stars, towards the great Universe.”