Bratislava, February 12 (TASR) – Fifteen European astronauts will meet in Bratislava in February at an international event to mark the 20th anniversary of the first flight into space by a Slovak, Ivan Bella.
“It will be a unique event that hasn’t yet taken place in Slovakia,” Bella, who initiated and organised the event, told TASR.
Then 34-year-old Bella took off into space on February 20, 1999 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on board the Soyuz TM-29 spacecraft for the Stefanik Space Mission along with Russian cosmonaut Viktor Mihailovic Afanasiev and French astronaut Jean-Pierre Haignere. Two days later they docked with the Mir orbital space station 350 km above the Earth, where Bella carried out scientific research in six areas. He returned to Earth on February 28 along with Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. The two successfully landed in Kazakhstan.
“Many astronauts and cosmonauts that I met at that time haven’t been to Slovakia, and there was no chance to thank them for actively participating in the successful mission 20 years ago. They’ve been presenting Slovakia for 20 years as a developed country with which they performed a successful space flight including significant scientific programmes,” said Bella. “That’s why I’ve decided it’s time to organise such a meeting, and the 20th anniversary of my space flight is a great opportunity to do so,” said Bella, who also served as Slovakia’s military attaché in Moscow and Kiev in the past.
Bella invited to Bratislava, for example, Afanasiev, Haignere and the first Czechoslovak cosmonaut Vladimir Remek, along with Miroslaw Hermaszewski (Poland), Franz Viehbock (Austria), Bertalan Farkas (Hungary), Dumitru Dorin Prunariu (Romania) and Georgi Ivanov Ivanov (Bulgaria).
The event will be held under the auspices of President Andrej Kiska, Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini (Smer-SD) and Defence Minister Peter Gajdos (SNS). A ceremonial dinner will be held following the guests’ arrival in Bratislava on February 19. A scientific conference called ’20 Years On – Opportunities for Slovakia’s Involvement in ESA [European Space Agency] Projects’ will be held on the next day.