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Romania's First Cosmonaut Prunariu: If I Had Not Become Cosmonaut, I Would Be Aviator
Romania's First Cosmonaut Prunariu: If I Had Not Become Cosmonaut, I Would Be Aviator
Dumitru Prunariu (Personal Archive Photo)

Dumitru Prunariu, the first and only Romanian to fly in space, said in an interview for BTA that if he had not become a cosmonaut, he would be an aviator. According to him, it is not possible to see a second Romanian in space next year, because the preparation takes years. What he expects in 2025 is a team of four, including one woman, to carry out a ten-day mission around the Moon. 

Prunariu, who is also the only citizen of Romania and another Balkan country, with the exception of forerunner Bulgaria, who has flown into outer space, gave an exclusive interview for BTA just before the official presentation of the new issue of BTA’s LIK magazine, "The Bulgarian Footprint in Space", on April 22. The first part of the interview with Prunariu was published on Monday. Following is the second part of the interview.

Q: Mr. Prunariu, in kindergarten you drew a flying saucer over your grandparents' roof. Have you thought about what you would have become if you hadn't been an astronaut? 

A: Certainly an aviator, because I've always wanted to fly. I took courses at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering. I also flew as an athlete in the aero club, and it was logical that I would have made a career in aviation if, quite by chance, I hadn't been in the right place at the right time to find out about the selection of cosmonaut candidates and raise my hand. 

Q: What does our planet look like from the outside, from above? 

A: It looks amazing. I'd go back to space again specifically to see it. But without any other assignments. I don't know who will send me at this age [laughs], but I dream of being able to fly around the Earth again and enjoy its beauty. However, I remain concerned about what is visible from there. The layer of the Earth's atmosphere is very thin and at the same time polluted, mostly by the actions of humans. From the outside you can also see how much the great forests of the globe have been affected, especially the Amazon forest. It is like a lung for us, because it converts carbon dioxide into oxygen, as all vegetation on Earth does. But if we cut down the forests and produce more carbon dioxide, this balance is lost. Each time I was looking to identify my hometown, Romania on the map, and Bulgaria next to it. There is no room for comment. I could see both when I flew and looked down at Earth. 

Q: What does the future look like in space? I ask you because in recent years land on the Moon has been bought, trips to Mars have been sold...

A: According to the international agreements that all countries exploring outer space are part of, not a single celestial body, not a single piece of it, can be appropriated and become someone else's property. So whoever sold land on the moon did it on his own, without being the rightful owner, in exchange for beautiful certificates that the world brags about [laughs]. 

As for the flights of the future, first of all, those aboard the International Space Station will continue. Billions of dollars have been spent on it. It involves the United States as well as the Russian Federation, Europe, Japan, Canada, and other countries. The costs of abandoning this orbital station are so great that no one dares to do it. That is why, in the field of manned space, in space, on board the International Space Station, Russians continue to fly with Americans, Americans with Russians, they get along very well, they cooperate as colleagues, and I would very much like this example to be followed on Earth. 

Flights to the Moon are also in the works. The lunar programme has been renewed. The Americans started the Artemis programme. Bilateral agreements have been signed with many countries around the world. Romania is part of them. If I am not mistaken, Bulgaria is also part of it. These agreements represent basic principles of what the approach should be in the future for the exploration of other celestial bodies. 

Next year, we are expecting a crew of four, including one woman - a woman of colour - to carry out a mission to the Moon, to fly around it, which will last 10 days. They will test the spacecraft for flights to the Moon and the requirements for the human body, because the Americans lost that experience. The last manned space flight to the Moon was 52 years ago. The Apollo 17 crew. There have not been flights to the Moon since. We are from another generation that flies in space. 

In 2026, another flight is planned to land on the Moon. Permanent human stations will be set up, at the South Pole of the Moon, a special area where there is a lot of ice that can be turned into water. There is sunlight almost constantly. The sun illuminates the South Pole, and we can install solar batteries there to provide electricity. We are also preparing, more through private industry, to mine resources on the Moon. 

After the Moon, Man is also scheduled to land on Mars, which is much further away. You can get to the Moon in four days in a spaceship. Mars takes eight months, after which you have to survive on the surface of the planet. You need oxygen reserves, very well-made suits. New suits designed for use on other celestial bodies instead of the Apollo-era suits, which were heavier, with outdated technology. A lot of things have changed. I can say that one of the American companies that makes suits for astronauts to fly to the moon works with the fashion company Prada.

Q: In that regard, is there a place for commerce and geopolitics in space?

A: Yes, there is a place for trade because, first of all, the space industry, which is now so developed, exceeds USD 450 billion a year and is growing every year. This industry provides numerous services - for institutions, for the population. Just think of the navigation and global positioning systems we have in our cars, the mobile phones, the ability to make telephone calls or to send real-time data to other continents, the constant weather information. Everything is done through space. On the Moon we hope to extract raw materials that we can first use in situ to build habitats, for spare parts, for our crews there. We're thinking, if we find more special materials, special metals that are rare on Earth, in what conditions we can transport them and use them here. There are companies that are even thinking about extracting natural resources from asteroids, because there are asteroids that are formed from rare metals or other ores and in the more distant future could be used by some companies or countries.

Q: And as we look to the future, when will a second Romanian cosmonaut fly in space. Could it happen in 2025?

A: Out of the question. 

Q: Why?

A: Absolutely not, because it takes more years to prepare a space flight. Both Romania and Bulgaria can participate in the selections for cosmonaut candidates organised by the European Space Agency. Although the last selection ended in 2022 without a single candidate from Romania or another Eastern European country. This international organisation offers many advantages in terms of research, of linking up with the European space industry, and not only the European one. It develops us economically, scientifically. However, when it comes to selecting cosmonauts, we find that Europe does not have its own candidates to launch. It always turns to the United States or the Russian Federation. At one point, cooperation with China began, and two European astronauts carried out exercises together with Chinese astronauts for rescue and recovery in space flight. To be effective, secure. They trained together. Relations warmed somewhat and are on standby with China. Europe doesn't have its own means to send people into space. But it selects 6 new astronauts once every 10-15 years. Europe's vision for the future is to build its own spacecraft, launch vehicles for the crews and to develop a much more intensive programme on board the orbital stations that will exist in space. If things calm down geopolitically on Earth, we will be able to continue our fruitful cooperation in space. 

Q: But unfortunately, Earth is torn by wars and conflicts, and you are probably following what is happening in Ukraine. You were also Romania's ambassador to Moscow. Why did this war start and how do you think it will end? 

A: There are conflicts happening almost all the time around the world. Let's not forget about Korea, about Vietnam, about Afghanistan, about Iraq, about Syria, now Ukraine, Gaza being attacked by Israel and attacking Israel in turn, Iran attacking Israel. Because of the many historical conflicts that we have inherited, but also because of the great economic interests of certain countries that allow themselves to start wars. It is difficult for me to say what is happening in each place individually, but I follow the processes, I follow the events with great concern, especially as the war in Ukraine is on the border with Romania, and I would like with all my heart that a peaceful solution be found, a negotiated solution and an end to the conflict under certain conditions. 

/DS/

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By 09:12 on 18.05.2024 Today`s news

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