Meeting an Astronaut

The lady proudly announced the name Vladimir Dzhanibekov. A tall, bald but well-built man, may be in his late sixties, climbed up the stairs and reached the dais. There was a huge applause from the crowd. I was quite surprised because I had thought the man would be younger, in his fifties may be. He sat on a chair quietly. I was waiting when he would come up to the microphone and start his talk. After a brief formal session, there he was, the man himself, Vladimir Dzhanibekov.

Earlier today in my college, I was told that a Russian cosmonaut would be delivering a talk at the Russian Center of Science and Culture today. I had read about many astronauts but never had a chance to meet one in person. I have always been amazed by space,  space ships and space explorations. This may be the effect of Star Wars, Star Trek many other sc-fi movies (I know I watch a lot of movies!). I immediately cancelled all my plans for the day and headed to the venue where the program would be held. How could I miss this opportunity of meeting an astronaut in person?!

And there was the man of the moment, twice Hero of the Soviet Union (1978 & 1981), Vladimir Dzhanibekov. I held my nerves when he came up to the podium and started to speak. Damn, he spoke Russian! Everyone in the audience looked perplexed (including me). A few moments later, a Nepali guy translated his words, in Nepali of course. The crowd was relieved. I took out my diary and a pen and scribbled a few notes as he spoke.

Dzhanibekov in 1974

Dzhanibekov in 1974

Vladimir Dzhanibekov was born on May 13, 1942 in the middle of the Second World War. He had always been interested in flying. In 1965, he  became a flying instructor in the Soviet Air Force. In 1970, he was selected in the team of cosmonauts. He made five flights,  Soyuz 27, Soyuz 39, Soyuz T-6, Soyuz T-12 and Soyuz T-13. All in all, he stayed 145 days, 15 hours and 56 minutes in space over this five years.

Dzhanibekov started by talking about zero gravity in space, its usefulness and its danger for humans. He talked about the sixteen sunrises he observed each day from the space, about the oceans and high Himalayas on the Earth. At one point he joked that he saw so much water in the Earth that sometimes he wondered why the Earth was called Earth instead of Ocean. He said that he could spot Nepal from up in the space because of the snow-clad high Himalayas. A loud applause greeted his comment. This was a proud moment for me as a Nepali. Technically, Nepal is the nearest country from the space because of Mt. Everest. A friend sitting next to me said, “Now I understand why Mt. Everest is called the Roof of the World.”  I just smiled at him.

In the later part of his talk, Dzhanibekov said something that went straight to my heart. He said, “From the space, we did not see the borders of any country, we only saw one Earth, our home. But when we got back, we could see people divided by land, by race, by language, trying to destroy one another. The sight was very disheartening. We have only one home and that is the Earth  We should all work together to protect the planet for the betterment of humanity.”

This day changed my perception about astronauts and space exploration. I came to know that astronauts too are humans. They do not have any super power but they are the real heroes who risk their lives for the success for the mission to explore the unexplored arenas of the cosmos. Meeting Dzhanibekov made me realize that any one can be an astronaut, the only thing you need is the desire to be one.

(This post is from my personal diary dated April 11, 2013, Thursday.)

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