The man who bring Kobzar to space: Independent Ukraine’s the first astronaut

29 Jan 2024
Леонід Каденюк

Ukrainian history has a long list of legends. Leonid Kadenyuk, the first astronaut of independent Ukraine, is at the top of this list for the country’s space community. In honor of his birthday, we would like to tell the story of an incredible Ukrainian.

Leonid Kadenyuk was born on January 28, 1951 in the village of Klishkivtsi, Chernivtsi Oblast. He dreamed of space from childhood, so immediately after graduating high school, he enrolled in the Chernihiv Higher Military Aviation School of Pilots. He earned his diploma as a pilot and engineer with a specialty in the piloting and operation of aircraft.

In 1976, Leonid decided to try luck at entering the selection process for cosmonauts for the Soviet Buran spacecraft program. He was one of nine candidates selected from a pool of 9,000. As a part of the program, he had to undergo a great many difficult physical tests and experiments. Leonid’s wife, Vira, particularly noted tests with electricity, studying the possibilities of human body in space.

After completing his general space training, Kadenyuk received his credentials as a test pilot and test cosmonaut. He conducted dangerous tests of new aircraft and their capabilities. The work was risky, and many of Kadenyuk’s colleagues died in the line of duty. In total, he flew more than 50 types of aircraft and accrued more than 2,400 flight hours.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Leonid Kadenyuk chose to stay and work in Ukraine. In 1995, he joined the cosmonaut corps of the National Space Agency of Ukraine. Later, he had the opportunity to fly into space aboard an American spacecraft as part of a Ukrainian-American space cooperation program.

After passing the competitive selection and training, Leonid Kadenyuk flew on the American space shuttle Columbia on mission STS-87 from November 19 to December 5, 1997. While in space, he conducted experiments on the effects of weightlessness on plants.

The most difficult challenge Kadenyuk faced in space was adapting to sleep in zero gravity. He had to sleep on the wall, which required securing his sleeping bag with six special fasteners. He chose to use Ukraine’s national anthem as his sleeping alarm. This marked the first time that our country’s national anthem  was played outside of planet Earth.

Kadenyuk also brought Ukraine’s flag and a copy of Taras Shevchenko’s poetry collection Kobzar with him into space. He unfurled the flag on November 27 during his first video call with Ukraine. This was the first time in history that a citizen of Ukraine had spoken to his homeland from space.

The flight lasted 15 days, 16 hours, 34 minutes and one second, during which the Columbia made 252 revolutions around the Earth. During his flight, Kadenyuk witnessed how humans were damaging the planet, leading him to appeal to the UN for the creation of an Ecological Constitution of Earth later in life.

After returning to Ukraine, Major General Leonid Kadenyuk served in the country’s Air Force, holding the post of chief of aviation of Ukraine’s Air Defense Forces, as well as working as an assistant to the President for aviation and cosmonautics. In 2002, he was elected to the Ukrainian parliament.

Leonid Kadenyuk died on January 31, 2018, when his heart suddenly stopped during a morning run.

With his extraordinary life, Kadenyuk not only inscribed himself in the history of Ukrainian and world cosmonautics. He was able to put Ukraine on the global space map as an equal player. He dedicated his years in independent Ukraine to the service of his country and its space institutions.