Cosmonaut helps students look to space from Maywood school grounds

October 7, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

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Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, the first Romanian cosmonaut, gives a presentation about his education, training and flight to space in May 1981. By Chantelle Lusebrink

Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, the first Romanian cosmonaut, gives a presentation about his education, training and flight to space in May 1981. By Chantelle Lusebrink

How long do you think it takes to reach outer space? 

Two days? 24 hours? 20 minutes?Each was a guess from one of nearly 300 Maywood Middle School eighth-graders who gathered to hear the first Romanian cosmonaut speak Sept. 17. 

“Nine minutes,” Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu said. “It only takes nine minutes to reach outer space with the huge acceleration of 270 tons of fuel burning.”

At nearly 18,000 miles per hour, Prunariu rocketed into the atmosphere high above the earth’s surface May 14, 1981, to make history. 

Prunariu came to Maywood as part of a community outreach day during the 21st Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers, held Sept. 14-20 in Seattle.

The mission of the association and its members is to promote educational awareness for space exploration and science education, as well as foster environmental awareness and cooperation for space exploration among the world’s nations. 

As part of the convention, participating astronauts and cosmonauts gave school presentations.  

“My hope is that students see a real-world approach to science in school and if they pursue that, what it can turn into,” said Principal Jason Morse.

Before his historic seven-day flight, Prunariu endured three years of intensive physical, mental and psychological training and tests; he showed students a movie made during his training.

“Sure, it looks fun now,” Prunariu said, referring to a machine that tested his physical reaction to movement. “But trust me, it’s not fun after a few hours.” 

Prunariu said he had really been training most of his life, though, because flying is his passion. 

He began taking an interest in flight at age 8, which led him to study physics and mathematics in high school and college. He graduated from college with a degree in aerospace engineering, and then entered military service for the Romanian Air Force, where he worked as an engineer and pilot. 

In the Air Force, he was asked to train to be a cosmonaut.

“I never thought I would go into space, but when the opportunity came I said yes,” he said. 

While on board the space laboratory, Prunariu and his colleagues conducted several tests regarding the Earth. 

Students were mostly interested in the physical experiences Prunariu had in space, like how hot and cold it got — more than 300 degrees above or below 0 — what he ate, how he slept and, of course, how you use the restroom in space.

“With kind of a vacuum,” Prunariu said.

Prunariu’s visit acted as inspiration for local students.

“I’m kind of interested in it. I think it is really interesting to see all the stars and know how much there is out there that is unexplored,” eighth-grader Nicole Manprejew said. “It was crazy to hear how long they train and they’re only in space for a few days.”

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