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Poland's only cosmonaut, Mirosław Hermaszewski, dies aged 81

Poland’s only cosmonaut, Gen Mirosław Hermaszewski, who circled the Earth in a Soviet spacecraft in 1978, has died aged 81. 

The retired air force pilot’s death was announced on Twitter by his son-in-law, European Parliament member Ryszard Czarnecki, who told the Polish press that he died in a Warsaw hospital following complications with his surgery.

“On behalf of the family, I’m confirming the very sad news about the death of Gen. Miroslaw Hermaszewski,” Czarnecki tweeted on Monday evening, describing him as a “great pilot, good husband and father, and much-beloved grandfather.”

Hermaszewski’s trip to space made him a national hero in Poland. The late cosmonaut went around the globe 126 times for nine days in June and July 1978, travelling alongside his Soviet colleague, Pyotr Klimuk, in the Soyuz 30 spaceship that docked at the Salyut 6 orbital space station.

In a 2018 interview with the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, Hermaszewski said his biggest fear during the journey was that their spacecraft would be struck by a meteor. He reported how his and Klimuk’s senses were sharpened, to the point of catching even the smallest sound.

Hermaszewski travelled into space as part of the Soviet Union’s Intercosmos programme, which offered an opportunity to explore space for Eastern Bloc states and other countries allied to Moscow. The Polish cosmonaut followed Vladimir Remek of the then-Czechoslovakia, who was the first person to blast off as part of the programme in March 1978.

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