40 years since the space flight of the first Bulgarian astronaut


Wanting to fly into the sky and see our planet from space is one of the first dreams any child has. Often the answer to the question: What do you want to be when you grow up is: Astronaut. An answer that brings a smile to the faces of adults, but sometimes it is so sincere that it leaves them wondering whether they are not talking to Bulgaria’s future third astronaut, alongside Georgi Ivanov and Alexander Alexandrov. 

It is 40 years today since the space flight of Bulgaria’s first astronaut Georgi Ivanov on board the Soviet spaceship Soyuz 33. The launch of the spacecraft was on 10 April, 1979 from the cosmodrome in Baikonur on the territory of what is today Kazakhstan, and the flight lasted around 48 hours. According to plan Georgi Ivanov was supposed to have spent 7 days and nights in outer space, but a problem in one of the engines prevented the docking of the ship to the Salyut 6 orbital station and the crew, headed by Russian cosmonaut Nikolay Rukavishnikov, had to return to Earth after completing 31 full orbits of the planet. While a way was being sought to bring them back to Earth alive, the two astronauts were ordered to rest. Georgi Ivanov used his time to take 72 shots, most of which have been included in Valeri Marinov’s film “Flight on the brink of eternity”.

The film tells the story of how Ivanov was selected to be the first Bulgarian astronaut by the aviation medical research institute of the Military Medical Academy, which verified that he had excellent special theoretical training, that he was capable of sustaining extreme pressure, that in difficult situations he was capable of making correct decisions swiftly. The almost 700 candidates selected underwent one year of tests. 20 were shortlisted and at the end of 1977, 4 left for Moscow – Georgi Ivanov, Alexander Alexandrov, Georgi Yovchev and Ivan Nakov. When they returned home Defence Minister Dobri Dzhurov issued an order to send Georgi Ivanov and Alexander Alexandrov to the Star City near Moscow.

The story of the lander used by the Russian-Bulgarian crew to come back to Earth is a fascinating one. Ivanov gave it to the museum in his home town of Lovech, but in the 1990s the place was turned into a disco. The new owners decided they did not need the capsule and threw it away – at a construction site. That was where photographer Evgeni Dimitrov found it and recovered it with the help of the local police. It remained in storage at a police facility and was later transferred to the Museum of Aviation in Plovdiv.

In the days leading up to the 40th anniversary of the flight, Georgi Ivanov met with students form a school in Lovech who came for an open lesson at the Museum of Aviation at Sofia airport. The discussion included visual impressions of the Earth seen through the porthole of a spaceship and the life of astronauts inside the space station. Georgi Ivanov was asked an avalanche of questions, among them what his childhood dream was, and what advice he would give anyone who wants to follow his example and, one day, head for the stars.

“My childhood dream was to be a sailor but that didn’t work out and I started studying parachuting, flying and hang gliding at the flight school in Lovech. Then I signed up at the Georgi Benkovski higher air force school. What I would like to say to those children who want to be astronauts is that they must follow their dream, study mathematics, physics, astronomy, because these are subjects that are interesting.”

In an interview for Radio Bulgaria Georgi Ivanov remembers the day of his flight and the preparations leading up to it:

“I remember it all. On the day of the launch from Baikonur, in the morning we started preparing to board the spaceship. But before that I had to undergo one year of training at the Yuri Gagarin centre in the so-called Star City which included physical training, study of the ship and the station, and finally, ten days before the launch, I also took part in training at Baikonur.”

English version: Milena Daynova

Photos: archive, podtepeto.com and BGNES

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