First Slovak astronaut flew into space 15 years ago

ON FEBRUARY 20, 1999 the first and so far only Slovak astronaut, Ivan Bella, was one of three crew members aboard the Soyuz TM-29 spacecraft, which launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

ON FEBRUARY 20, 1999 the first and so far only Slovak astronaut, Ivan Bella, was one of three crew members aboard the Soyuz TM-29 spacecraft, which launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

A native of Brezno, Bella, then aged 34, was accompanied by Russian Commander Viktor Afanasiev and French engineer Jean-Pierre Haigneré.

During his eight days onboard the laboratory of the space station Mir, Bella conducted a scientific programme consisting of six medical, biological and physical experiments. One of the most crucial was the endo-test, which involved observing the physiological reactions of the body during stress and repeated blood-taking in zero gravity.

Many in the scientific community were intrigued by an experiment in which Japanese quails which were hatched in zero gravity, after astronauts bred them in artificial gravitation in a small centrifuge. In spite of a few problems, one of which involved a broken centrifuge, Bella managed to bring three living quails back to Earth - an unprecedented feat.

Bella’s space trip ended on February 28, 1999 with a smooth landing on the snow of the Kazakh steppe. The Slovak astronaut’s flight, which cost $20 million (USD), was financed from the unblocking of Russian debt towards Slovakia.

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