Preparing our regular column HED_people, we were thinking about who should be chosen as a hero for the special Vietnamese issue of our magazine. And the editorial team quite rightly chose Phạm Tuân, the first Vietnamese cosmonaut. The story of Phạm Tuân, a top-notch pilot, cosmonaut, patriot, outstanding leader, and just an amazing person, is an inspiring story of a deed which is worth telling.
Phạm Tuân is a Hero and a Legend
Vietnamese pilot, Hero of the Vietnamese War Phạm Tuân flew into space on July 23, 1980 on board the Soyuz 37 spacecraft. This event became a milestone one in the history of the Vietnam-Russia friendship.
Tuân was born into a peasant family. Since childhood, he had been dreaming of becoming a pilot to protect his homeland from enemy planes. His way to the dream was not easy. Tuân, who suffered from malnutrition and was not strong and healthy enough to become a pilot. But, like in any story of overcoming, poor health was just an obstacle to overcome. He was persistent and determined, did sports and made himself fit, and, at last, he became a cadet at Gagarin Air Force Academy.
In fact, he was a top-notch pilot. He shot down the unshootable American bomber B-52. Generally speaking, he was doomed: he was to fly up to it, he shot it down, but after that he was pursued by the American fighters. They even did not shoot him down at once because they realized that when he would start landing... It was night, runway lights would be lit, he would be seen very well, he would move at low speed, and they would shoot him up like a partridge. He really flew up to his airdrome and disappeared. The lights were not lit. He turned out to have been training to land Mig-21 in the dark. He showed such a class! This could be done very seldom. It means that it was almost impossible to shoot down B-52 because there was the guard, savers around it. And surviving it was even more impossible!
In 1979, Phạm Tuân was selected to participate in the Interkosmos Soviet program. He took a training course and in July, 1980 he took a flight on board the Soyuz 37 and Soyuz 36 spacecraft and the Salyut 6 space station. During the Olympic Games in Moscow, Viktor Gorbatko and Phạm Tuân entered orbit. Without exaggeration, the whole world was observing the crew’s work.
Tuân spent a total of 7 days, 20 hours and 42 minutes in space. On board the station, he carried out a biological experiment on azolla to grow plants on board the international space station and took photos of Vietnam from Earth orbit.
For Vietnam, as a war-ravaged country, Phạm Tuân’s access to the space orbit was a great deed, miracle and hope for revival. Tuân was not only the first Vietnamese cosmonaut in orbit but also the first person from an Asian country to fly into space. His flight was ten years ahead of Japan.
On July 31, 1980, Gorbatko and Tuân were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. On August 1, during the cosmonauts’ visit to Vietnam, they were awarded the title of Hero of Labor of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
In 2000, Lieutenant General Phạm Tuân became the Head of the Main Directorate of Defense Industry of the Ministry of Defense. In 2002, he became the Chairman of the Military Commercial Joint Stock Bank. He retired in January 2008 and lives in Hanoi now.
Today, Phạm Tuân is an outstanding citizen of his country, a symbol of courage, a living legend, a person who epitomizes determination and bravery.