The first and only Polish Astronaut in space Mirosław Hermaszewski passed away.

The first and only Polish Astronaut in space, Mirosław Hermaszewski, passed away this Monday, December 12th at 81.

In 1978, he became the first and last Pole sent to space, he spent eight days aboard the Salyut 6 space station (from June 27th to July 5th, 1978). His backup was the Polish astronaut Zenon Jankowski.

Mirosław Hermaszewski was born in Lipniki, (formerly in the Wołyń Voivodeship of Poland, now North West Ukraine). He was the youngest of Roman Hermaszewski and Kamila Bielawska’s seven children. He is a survivor of the Volhynian massacre, during which Ukrainian nationalists murdered 19 members of his family, including his father. Hermaszewski narrowly escaped death himself when the Ukrainian Insurgent Army attacked Lipniki on the night of 26–27 March 1943, he was only 18 months old.

After the incorporation of former Polish territory into the Ukrainian SSR at the end of the war, what was left of Hermaszewski’s family was deported to Wołów near Wrocław, where he completed elementary and high school. From a young age, he was interested in aviation, being a skillful self-taught modeler. In 1960, he completed a gliding pilotage course in the Wrocław Aeroklub. He flew at the airports in Oleśnica, Jeżów Sudecki, on the Żar mountain, and in Lisie Kąty. He finished his airplane pilotage course in Grudziądz, in 1961, and in the autumn of the same year started studying to be a fighter plane pilot at the “School of Eaglets” in Dęblin where he mastered the TS-8 Bies trainer aircraft and then earned permissions to fly the MiG-15 jet fighter. After graduating from the academy in March 1964 at the top of his class, he was assigned to the air defense regiment in Poznań with the rank of podporucznik (Second Lieutenant) and continued to study at the General Staff Academy in Warsaw, wherehe learned to fly the MiG-21. In the years that followed, he continued to train while serving the Polish Air Force as the commander of squadrons and regiments in Słupsk, Gdynia, and Wrocław. In 1971, he graduated from the Karol Świerczewski Military Academy.

In 1976, he was chosen from a pool of 500 Polish military pilots to take part in the Interkosmos space program. The group of candidates, who initially were not informed what they were being selected and psychologically tested for, was narrowed down to 120, then just five, and eventually from an elite selection of only several pilots Hermaszewski was finally picked with Zenon Jankowski as his backup to participate in the Soyuz 30 mission. For a period of almost two years, they underwent extensive training for theoretical expertise, physical endurance, and resistance to mental stress (among various other factors) at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, near Moscow. Besides training in weightless conditions, psychological trials took place as well, with candidates at one point having to complete 998 tests in one day.

Come late June 1978, together with Soviet cosmonaut Pyotr Klimuk from Belarus, Hermaszewski flew from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to spend eight days aboard the Salyut 6 space station (from 17:27 on 27 June to 16:31 on 5 July 1978). The latter fulfilled the role of deck engineer, while the former (having performed two space missions up to this point) served as commander. Minutes before the launch of their spacecraft, Hermaszewski said:

I, a citizen of the Polish People’s Republic, feel honoured being granted the opportunity to carry out a spaceflight on the Soviet ship Soyuz 30 and the orbital station Salyut 6. The confidence entrusted in me, I will not disappoint.

Miroslaw Hermaszewski, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, on 27 June 1978, minutes before Soyuz 30 takeoff

In orbit, Klimuk and Hermaszewski carried out various geoscience experiments and photographed the Earth–orbiting it 126 times. Over the duration of their stay at the space station, Hermaszewski and Klimuk—sometimes assisted by Vladimir Kovalyonok and Aleksandr Ivanchenkov, the two other cosmonauts who had already been stationed at Salyut 6 prior to the arrival of the Soyuz 30 mission—carried out a total of eleven different experiments while in space that had been planned internationally as part of the program.

They landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan, 300 km west of Tselinograd. After the spaceflight, Hermaszewski achieved hero status in the countries of the Eastern Bloc (especially the Polish People’s Republic) and was awarded several high honors, including the rarely given to foreigners Hero of the Soviet Union title for his participation in the mission. A massive information and propaganda campaign around the Soyuz 30 mission and its participants was launched by the Polish government in coordination with the USSR and other allied states in the Warsaw Pact. In 1985, he co-founded the Association of Space Explorers. Hermaszewski later became President of the Polish Astronautical Society (a position he held from 1986 to 1990).

When martial law in Poland was introduced on 13 December 1981, Hermaszewski was named member of the Military Council of National Salvation (WRON) without his consent or knowledge. He was studying in Moscow at the time and was at first ordered to return to Warsaw when martial law was declared, but after two weeks he was released to continue his studies. In 1982, he advanced to pułkownik (colonel) military rank. Over a year after the end of martial law in the Polish People’s Republic, in November 1984, Hermaszewski was appointed commander of the Fighter Pilots School in Dęblin. By 1987, he became head of that institution, and his time as director has since then been assessed very positively, as his superiors noted the progress in team integration, as well as an increase in the didactic and educational level at the university.

In 1988, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and continued to serve in high-ranking positions for the training of new combat pilots. Between 1991 and 1992, Hermaszewski served as second-in-command of the Polish Air Force and Air Defence. He performed his final flight in a MiG-29, in October 2005, and has since then been retired; in his 40 years of service for the Polish Air Force, he spent 2047 hours in the air.

Following retirement, in 2001 he unsuccessfully stood in Polish parliamentary elections as an SLD-UP candidate to the Senat. He received 93,783 votes, which translated to 32.46% of the vote in his electoral region. In the 2002 Polish local elections, again as a candidate of the social-democratic SLD-UP party, he was elected into the Mazovian Regional Assembly with 10,463 votes. He then became a member of the SLD party and ran once again in Polish parliamentary elections in 2005, with 5,223 votes but no mandate. In 2009, Universitas published his autobiographical story Ciężar nieważkości. Opowieść pilota-kosmonauty (“The Weight of Weightlessness. Story of a Pilot-Cosmonaut”) to positive reception from readers, leading to reprints and several expanded versions being published in the decade that followed

Hermaszewski was set to try his hand at politics once more as a candidate for the European Parliament, again from the SLD party, in the 2014 elections. Ultimately he decided not to take part, as his son-in-law was also running for office, but via an opposing political party In 2018, the conservative ruling Law and Justice party of Poland — mirroring similar efforts from 2007, tried to vote through a law that would collectively demote all former members of the aforementioned WRON from the early 1980s to the lowest rank of private, including Hermaszewski. The so-called “degradation act” was met with controversy in Polish and foreign media, primarily due to the case of Hermaszewski, who was initially included as a member of the WRON without his consent or knowledge. In the end, the proposed law was vetoed by President Andrzej Duda, who used Hermaszewski’s case as one of the reasons why the “degradation act” needs to be rewritten.

Hermaszewski has been interested in aviation and model aircraft since an early age. He was married to Emilia (née Łazar) Hermaszewska since 1966 and together they have two children, Mirosław (born 1966) and Emilia (born 1974). He has four grandchildren: Julia, Amelia, Emilia, and Stanisław as well as a pet Yorkshire Terrier Giokonda. Hermaszewski’s son, Porucznik (Lieutenant) Mirosław Roman Hermaszewski, on his career path, followed in the footsteps of his father and uncle, graduating from the Polish Air Force University to become a military reserve force officer.

During their training and after their joint mission to the Salyut 6 orbital station, Pyotr Klimuk and Mirosław Hermaszewski befriended each other – they stayed in touch and remained close friends ever since.  Mirosław also befriended numerous other persons associated with the Soviet space program during his time in Russia and Kazakhstan, including members of Yuri Gagarin’s family and Alexei Leonov. Hermaszewski continued to express gratitude for being given the opportunity to see the cosmos firsthand and recalled it very fondly, admitting that he missed it and still dreamed about the experience often. He regularly visited schools and spoke with children of all ages, as well as attended interviews with various media outlets; he has been described as a “modest and likable person”. Hermaszewski claimed to have had an “aesthetic experience” that transformed into a “spiritual experience” while aboard the Soyuz 30 in space, but he viewed faith and religion as an intimate and private matter.

Hermaszewski was highly critical of for-profit spaceflight and views space exploration as something that should be done for science and human progress. In an interview he once stated:

Once, when the Cold War was going on, loads of money was being spent on armaments. When this period passed, some of this money was allocated to space programmes. Cooperation between the USA, Russia and other countries intensified. And there are effects. Financially, one country will definitely not be able to fly to Mars. Political decisions are needed, followed by money. A race to prestige on an “us” or “them” basis will not lead to anything. It must be “we” in a general sense — Earthlings. But there is still no such serious agreement.

— Mirosław Hermaszewski, in a 2010 interview with Nauka w Polsce


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