The cosmonaut - Lieutenant General Pham Tuan "The first Asian to fly into space"


( 42 years ago, on July 23, 1980, cosmonaut Pham Tuan became the first Vietnamese to fly into space when he accompanied Soviet cosmonaut Viktor Vassilyevich Gorbatko on board Soyuz-37. He returned safely after making 142 orbits around the Earth. Thanks to the help of its friend, the Soviet Union, Vietnam became the first country in Asia to conquer outer space. That year, the 33-year-old Pham Tuan was also the first Asian to travel to space.

On July 23, 1980, Cosmonaut Gorbatko and Pham Tuan on July 23, 1980, at the Bakonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan before flying into space with the Soyuz 37 spacecraft.


Cosmonaut Pham Tuan was born on February 14, 1947 in Quoc Tuan commune, Kien Xuong district, Thai Binh province. He joined the army, was recruited into the Vietnam People's Air Force in 1965, graduated from the Military Pilot School in the Soviet Union in 1967, and became a fighter pilot of the Red Star Air Force Regiment, participating in the fight to protect the airspace of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

In mid-1972, he was one of 12 pilots selected to train night fighters to prepare for the fight against B-52s (night fighters require much higher technical requirements than daytime fighters). He was also the first pilot to shoot down this type of aircraft from the air and returned safely after he shot down an American B52 on the night of December 27, 1972. In 1973, he was awarded the title "Hero of the People's Armed Forces."

In 1977, he was sent to study at the Gagarin Air Force Academy (USSR). The following year, he switched to space flight. Pham Tuan was selected to join the 6th international flight crew in the Intercosmos program of the Soviet Union on April 1, 1979. When selecting a Vietnamese pilot into space, he was the last choice for all 4 seats. After 15 months of technical and physical preparation for space flight, Pham Tuan embarked on a historic mission to glorify Vietnam in 1980.


Pham Tuan said that the pilot selection process is very strict according to the standards of the Intercosmos program. To be selected to become the mission's ccosmonaut, both pilots, Pham Tuan and Bui Thanh Liem, trained for a period of 16 months. Both people have the same chance to go into space, but only one is chosen.

On July 21, 1980, just 3 days before the launch, the National Council announced that Pham Tuan was chosen as the main pilot along with Soviet cosmonaut Viktor Vassilyevich Gorbatko, just before the flight time. At this time, a series of tasks must be prepared, from checking what to do in space to arranging the order of actions.

Gorbatko (left) and Pham Tuan practiced together before making a trip lasting nearly 8 days, including 6 days aboard the Salyut 6 space station. Photo: VNA


The historic flight began at 9:33 p.m. on July 23, 1980 (Moscow time) from the Baikonur International Cosmodrome, Soviet Union, towards the Salyut 6 space station. This was the 13th launch and the 11th successful docking of the Soyuz spacecraft to the station.


Two cosmonauts, Pham Tuan (right) - Gorbatko, prepared for the launch pad Photo: Archive


Once in orbit, the spacecraft moves at a speed of 7.9 km/s. At that altitude and conditions, any test of the pilot's health when performed on the ground, no matter how good it was, did not guarantee anything. Even so, the flight was still successful, connected the spacecraft to the space station, and returned to Earth safely at 6:15 pm on July 31, 1980.

Cosmonaut Pham Tuan stayed in space for seven days, 20 hours, and 42 minutes. When launched into orbit, the Soyuz 37 is tasked with docking with the Salyut 6-Soyuz 36 space station. Here, they carried out research missions with two other Soviet cosmonauts, L. Popov and V. Rimanov. Two cosmonauts, Pham Tuan and Gorbatco, made a total of 142 orbits around the Earth during the trip; conducted 30 aeronautical remote sensing experiments; measured and created a soil moisture map of the Red River region; and prepared for the installation of the Hoa Sen Ground Station serving communication via the Intersputnik system. In the state of weightlessness, they also conducted experiments on the dissolution of mineral samples, plant experiments on duckweed fern, etc. In addition, cosmonaut Pham Tuan also took pictures of Vietnam from Earth's orbit.

Cosmonaut Pham Tuan signed his name on the landing compartment of Soyuz 37 after returning to Earth. Photo: Quang Thanh/VNA


After days of urgent work and completing all assigned tasks on the Orbital Complex Salyut 6-Soyuz 36-Soyuz 37, both cosmonauts Pham Tuan and Gorbatco transferred to the Soyuz 36 spacecraft to return to Earth. The landing compartment of the Soyuz 36 landed precisely in a predetermined area not far from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

After the flight, he was honored to become one of the first foreigners to be awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin. Photo: Documentation


"It was a very special feeling the first time I saw the rotating earth hovering in the middle of deep blue space in zero gravity. The second interesting thing was that day and night only lasted for 90 minutes: 60 minutes were day and 30 minutes were night. The spacecraft flew through all the countries. I also tried to look for my dear country. I had already driven a lot of planes before, but to fly at that altitude, maybe it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I felt really proud." - Cosmonaut Pham Tuan



Because there were a lot of limitations while flying into space, each person was only allowed to bring letters and family photos. In addition, Hero Pham Tuan was assigned to carry a handful of Ba Dinh soil, a copy of Uncle Ho's Declaration of Independence, Uncle Ho's Testament, Uncle Ho's photo, General Secretary Le Duan's photo, two Badges of Ho Chi Minh and a National flag. All those things were carried up with him, stamped on the spacecraft, and officially recorded as having been in space.

The flight became a historic event in the lives of the people in both countries, marking a new milestone in the development of the traditional friendship and comprehensive cooperation between Vietnam and the former Soviet Union, as well as the Russian Federation nowadays.

Soviet reporter interviewed two cosmonauts who have just completed their missions. Photo: Nhat Nam

In Vietnamese eyes, this flight is a historical event with economic, political, and scientific significance. The flight proved that Vietnamese intelligence could gradually catch up to the same level as world science. The flight succession demonstrated the remarkable ability of the Vietnamese in the new era, when the Vietnamese had mastered country and life and had entered a more prosperous period in their history.


In 1980, cosmonaut Pham Tuan was awarded the title of Hero of Labor of Vietnam and the Order of Ho Chi Minh. He was also one of the first foreigners to be awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin. Moreover, he also received 3 Hero titles (Hero of the People's Armed Forces, Hero of Labor of Vietnam, and Hero of the Soviet Union).

In 2006, the Vietnam Records Organization (VietKings) honored Hero - Lieutenant General Pham Tuan with the record as "Vietnam's first cosmonaut."

With all the values of that historic flight, on the occasion of the 4th Meeting of World Record Holders taking place in New Delhi, India, in September 2022, the Asian Records Organization officially awarded Hero – Lieutenant General Pham Tuan the record: The first person in Asia to fly into space.

Hero – Lieutenant General Pham Tuan received the Asian Record in 2022 (Photo: VietKings)

Hero – Lieutenant General Pham Tuan is currently the Honorary Chairman of the Celestial Sphere of Records (SPHERE.6), a project founded by the Vietnam Records Organization (Vietkings).



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