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Monday, 24 July, 2000, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Vietnam marks anniversary of giant leap
Russian rocket
Pham Tuan said the launch remains greatest day of his life
Vietnam has been marking the 20th anniversary of its first and, to date, only venture into space.

On 23 July, 1980 one-time water buffalo herder Lieutenant General Pham Tuan was blasted into space on board a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft.

Pham Tuan
Tuan's mission earned him the accolade Hero of the Soviet Union
Hailed as the Third World's first cosmonaut, Lieutenant Tuan was instantly elevated to the status of national hero.

Attending what the official Vietnam News described as a "solemn meeting" on Sunday to mark the anniversary, Lieutenant Tuan, who is now deputy head of Vietnam's defence industry, recalled what he said was "the greatest day in my life".

"As everybody watched us enter the spacecraft at Baikonur cosmodrome, I felt almost as if time was standing still," he said.

Space Pioneers
1980 - First Asian in space: Pham Tuan
1981 - First Mongolian in space: Jugderdemidiyn Gurragcha
1984 - First Indian in space: Rakesh Sharma
1988 - First Afghan in space: Abdul Ahad Mohmand
"I grew more and more anxious as I listened to the countdown even though I had been training for that moment.

"Suddenly we and everything in the capsule were thrown into a weightless environment."

Taking place just five years after the reunification of Vietnam and the end of the bitter war with the US, the mission was a huge propaganda victory for the communist government.

Twenty years later, speaking alongside Russian co-pilot Vasilevich Gorebasko, Lieutenant Tuan recalled how he carried with him images of Ho Chi Minh - known to many Vietnamese as "Uncle Ho" - part of a veritable shrine of communist icons.

Suddenly we and everything in the capsule were thrown into a weightless environment

Former cosmonaut Pham Tuan
"I took several national flags, national emblems, portraits of Uncle Ho, his national independence proclamation, his testament, a small pack of soil from Ba Dinh Square [site of the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum] and many other badges."

Back on Earth Lieutenant Tuan was lauded with party and state honours, including one of the highest accolades of the Eastern Bloc, Hero of the Soviet Union.

However it was not the first time that he had won the praise of party officials.

During the United States' Chistmas 1972 bombing campaign over North Vietnam, Lieutenant Tuan was the first Vietnamese fighter pilot to shoot down a giant B-52 bomber.

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See also:

01 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Countdown for Chinese astronaut
22 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
China joins space club
19 Nov 98 | ISS
The world's future in space
03 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Taikonauts 'ready for 2001'
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