PARSIPPANY, N.J. – Leonid Kadenyuk, a former military pilot who became the first and only Ukrainian astronaut to fly on a U.S. spacecraft, died in Kyiv on January 31. He was 67. According to various media reports, he suddenly took ill while jogging, as was his usual routine, in a park in the Ukrainian capital.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman wrote on Facebook: “Leonid Kadenyuk has died. A truly legendary man. My condolences to his relatives and friends.”
It was on November 19, 1997, that Col. Kadenyuk became independent Ukraine’s first astronaut in space. The 46-year-old Col. Kadenyuk traveled aboard the Columbia space shuttle for 15 days as a payload specialist and conducted a series of science experiments called the Collaborative Ukrainian Experiments that studied the effects of microgravity on plant growth.
“I am very proud that it has fallen to me to play this role, to be the first cosmonaut of an independent Ukraine. And I will do everything I can to be worthy of this honor,” he said.
Col. Kadenyuk’s flight aboard the U.S. space shuttle was hailed as a symbol of the expanding strategic partnership between the United States and Ukraine.
After his historic flight aboard, Ukrainian Col. Kadenyuk and his back-up, fellow Ukrainian astronaut Yaroslav Pustovyi, visited Ukrainian communities in Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Houston, New York and Newark, N.J., in early 1998.
Col. Kadenyuk told the audience gathered at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic School what he took into space aboard the shuttle: a Ukrainian flag; a portrait of Ukraine’s greatest poet, Taras Shevchenko, and a copy of his Kobzar; and recordings of Ukrainian songs sung by famous Ukrainian artists such as Anatolii Solovianenko, Dmytro Hnatiuk, Sofia Rotaru and others; as well as a recording of the Ukrainian national anthem, “Shche Ne Vmerla Ukraina.”
Dr. Pustovyi emphasized that “Ukraine and the cosmos have always been connected.” He listed three Ukrainians who made immeasurable contributions to space exploration: Mykola Kybalchych (1853-1881), an inventor, foresaw space flight and developed the idea of jet propulsion; Yurii Kondratiuk (1897-1941/1942), a scientist and inventor, was a pioneer in rocketry and space technology who came up with the concept of multi-stage rockets; Serhii Korolov (1907-1966), an aeronautical engineer, designed the first Soviet guided missiles and spacecraft.
Dr. Pustovyi also noted that Pavlo Popovych, a Ukrainian, became the USSR’s fourth cosmonaut in 1962. Thus, he said, it can be said that Ukraine always was a space-faring country. This space shuttle flight by Col. Kadenyuk, he continued, is “Ukraine’s return to the cosmos.”
Col. Kadenyuk was born on January 28, 1951, in the Chernivtsi region of Ukraine. He graduated from the Chernihiv Higher Aviation School in 1971, the State Scientific Research Institute of the Russian Air Forces Center for test pilot training in 1977, and the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in 1978. He earned a master of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Moscow Aviation Institute, Department of Aircraft Construction, in 1989.
He was a member of the USSR Cosmonaut Team since 1976. He underwent complete engineering and flight training for Soyuz, Soyuz-TM, orbital station Salyut, orbital complex Mir, including special training as a commander of Buran re-entry space vehicle. He had flown 54 different types and modifications of aircraft, logged more than 2,400 hours flying time, and holds the qualifications of Test Pilot, 1st Class, and Military Pilot, 2nd Class, and Test Pilot. As a pilot-instructor he was responsible for the graduation of 15 students.
In 1990, following the Ukrainian-USSR State Agreement on a Collaborative Space Program, he was appointed to command the Ukrainian space crew. In the following two years, he trained to command Soyuz-TM-S during its docking with unmanned Buran and Mir station (the mission was canceled due to financial difficulties), completed the full course of space training for a commander of the SOYUZ-TM, and also took the full course of manual docking of space ships, using special training equipment. In subsequent years, he underwent engineering and flight training courses as commander of the Buran Space System. Using the MIG-31 and MIG-25 he mastered and improved the trajectory for lowering and landing the Buran spacecraft.
In 1996, he transferred to the Institute of Botany, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kyiv, as a scientific investigator developing the collaborative Ukrainian-American experiment in space biology.
Col. Kadenyuk was one of the first members of the astronaut group of the National Space Agency of Ukraine (NSAU) selected in 1996. In November 1996, NSAU and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) assigned him to be one of two payload specialists for the Collaborative Ukrainian Experiment flown on STS-87. He participated in payload specialist training at the Johnson Space Center and was the prime payload specialist aboard that U.S. space shuttle mission.
When the shuttle was launched on November 19, 1997, Col. Kadenyuk’s wife, Vera, 14-year-old son, Dimitri, two brothers, a niece and a nephew were on hand to watch him fly into space.
Col. Kadenyuk met with President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine at Cape Canaveral, Fla., before the Columbia’s liftoff. The New York Times quoted Mr. Kuchma as saying, “When I felt the soil trembling, I immediately had a thought about the mightiness of the United States.” The Times noted that this was the first time the Ukrainian president, a former aerospace industry executive, had viewed a launch in the open; previously he had watched launches through a periscope from an underground chamber.
The Ukrainian astronaut spent 15 days in space with American astronauts Kevin Kregel, Steven Lindsey, Winston Scott and Kalpana Chawla, and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi.
In completing his first mission, Col. Kadenyuk orbited the Earth 252 times, traveled 6.5 million miles and logged a total of 15 days, 16 hours and 34 minutes in space.
He won a seat in the Verkhovna Rada in 2002, and was a national deputy until 2006.
Sources: The Ukrainian Weekly archives, NASA.