Dumitru Prunariu was the first Romanian - and so far stays the only one - to have ever flown beyond the earth atmosphere 25 years ago. On 14 May 1981, crammed in a space not much larger than the taken by front seats in an automobile, a Russian and a Romanian left Earth from Baykonur Airfield to reach the space USSRâs orbit station Salyut 7.
Since then, all people meeting Prunariu focus on these seven days he spent in space, of his 54-year long life. Saturday morning too, when Prunariu visited the Airfield in Pucioasa hosting a space museum carrying his name, visitors, friends and journalists alike celebrating 25 years since his flight in space converged with the same questions on him.
Though he basks in the attention, Prunariu still dreams of the day when people will simply ask him what he did the day before.
"I kept thinking what made the difference for the communist regime to use for propaganda Nadia Comaneciâs name sthe gymnast to score a first ever 10 in the Olympicst and not my name too. I understood later that Nadiaâs accomplishment valued more as she made it in the West, supported by Romanians only, while I made it as part of an international cooperation team, with support from a country which Romania did not share the best relations with, in spite of our similar political systems," says Prunariu now.
Prunariu was differently handled by the communist regime when it came to having his merits recognized within the country borders; while the USSR made no qualms about giving the highest national order to the Russian cosmonaut Leonyd Popov, flying with Prunariu, the Romanian authorities were procrastinating awarding a similar honor to Prunariu, as the two political regimes convened prior to the space mission.
It took USSRâs diplomatic leverage to talk the Ceausescuâs back into their senses, and make them keep the promise the two political leaderships made each other prior to the cosmonautsâ departure.
Prunariu at the time did not realize the scope of his achievement and the potential to use it as a media tool. He was just happy to have become his wifeâs hero, the woman he credits for actually leading him to the accomplishments in his life. He proudly recalls that his wife beat him up at chess; now, in a mellower disposition, she ends the matches in a tie; however, the game of backgammon still decides which one of them does the dishes.
Prunariu enjoys the perks of a full family life, happy to be a grandfather. He already dreams for his granddaughter Arina to become an astronaut. She is unaware of the plans, as she happily goes from one guest to the party in Pucioasa to another, to sit on their laps.
Translated by Anca Paduraru