Interkosmos, which was formed in 1967, was a Soviet outer space program, designed to help the Soviet Union’s allies with manned and unmanned outer space missions. The program of international cooperation led by the Soviet Union from the 1960s had primarily political objectives: establishing good relations with the countries of Eastern Europe.
Interkosmos included the allied east-European nations of the Warsaw Pact (formally known as the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, it was a collective defence treaty signed in Warsaw, Poland between the Soviet Union and seven Eastern Bloc satellite states of Central and Eastern Europe in May 1955, during the Cold War), Comecon (or Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, an economic organization from 1949 to 1991 under the leadership of the Soviet Union that comprised the countries of the Eastern Bloc along with a number of communist states elsewhere in the world), and other socialist states like Afghanistan, Cuba, Mongolia, and Vietnam. In addition, pro-Soviet non-aligned nations such as India and Syria participated, and even France and Austria, despite them being capitalist nations.
The highly publicized Russian outer space program rapidly became a significant propaganda tool for the Soviet Union in the waning years of communism. Billed as an international “research-cosmonaut” imperative, it was also a high-profile means of displaying solidarity with the nine participating Eastern bloc countries. Those countries contributed pilots who were trained in Moscow for week-long “guest” missions on orbiting Salyut stations. They did a little subsidiary science and were permitted only the most basic mechanical manoeuvres.
It all began in November 1965, when the Soviet Union decided to bring together eight communist countries to discuss the content, form, and objectives of a possible outer space collaboration. These countries were East Germany, Bulgaria, Cuba, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. In April 1967, the nine states signed a convention to concretize collaborative projects. This was the birth of the largest outer space cooperation program in history, which will be called Interkosmos in 1970 at a summit in Poland. It will concern five fields of study: physics, meteorology, biology and medicine, outer space telecommunications and the study of the Earth’s natural resources and the protection of its environment (the latter domain will not be included in the specifications until 1976). In May 1979, Vietnam became the tenth country in the Interkosmos community.
The program started with the development of many scientific satellites. The launch and operation of Interkosmos satellites is a huge success. In addition to the obvious scientific benefit that the cooperating countries derive from it, the program allows the Soviet Union to highlight the communist system.
The Interkosmos program does not have a common budget. Each country has its own budget, builds its equipment and supplies it to the Soviet Union which is responsible for integrating them into a satellite and launching them. The investments of each of the countries are very variable, and it is East Germany that provides the largest contribution. In the only period from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, it participated in more than fifty experiments.
On July 13, 1976, in Moscow, the governments of the nine member countries (Vietnam is not yet part of it) sign an “Intergovernmental Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Exploration of Space”. This document authorizes the participation of member countries in Soviet manned flights: each country may send one of its nationals free of charge on a Soyuz vessel. Moscow only requires that international cosmonauts be former military pilots, because they are better prepared than anyone for an outer space flight, because of their training.
Following the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project (conducted in July 1975, it was the first joint U.S.–Soviet space flight, as a symbol of the policy of détente that the two superpowers were pursuing at the time. It involved the docking of an Apollo Command/Service Module and the Soviet Soyuz 19 capsule. The unnumbered Apollo vehicle was a surplus from the terminated Apollo program and the last one to fly.
This mission ceremoniously marked the end of the Space Race that had begun in 1957 with the Sputnik launch), there were talks between NASA and Interkosmos in the 1970s about a “Shuttle-Salyut” program to fly Space Shuttle missions to a Salyut space station, with later talks in the 1980s even considering flights of the future Soviet shuttles from the Buran program to a future U.S. space station. Whilst the Shuttle-Salyut program never materialized during the existence of the Soviet Interkosmos program, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Shuttle–Mir Program (a collaborative space program between Russia and the United States of America, which involved American Space Shuttles visiting the Russian space station Mir, Russian cosmonauts flying on the shuttle, and an American astronaut flying aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to engage in long-duration expeditions aboard Mir) would follow in these footsteps and pave the way to the International Space Station (ISS).
Beginning in April 1967 with unmanned research satellite missions, the first manned Interkosmos mission occurred in February 1978. So-called joint manned spaceflights enabled fourteen non-Soviet cosmonauts to participate in Soyuz space flights between 1978 and 1988.
1) Vladimír Remek, born in September 1948, is a Czech former cosmonaut and military pilot. He flew aboard Soyuz 28 in March 1978, becoming the first and only Czechoslovak to have flown in outer space. As the first person in outer space from a country other than the Soviet Union or the United States of America, and with the entry of the Czech Republic and Slovakia into the European Union, Vladimír Remek is considered to be the first spationaut from the European Union.
2) Mirosław Hermaszewski, born in September 1941, is a retired Polish Air Force officer and cosmonaut. He became the first (and to this day remains the only) Polish national in outer space, when he flew aboard the Soviet Soyuz 30 spacecraft in 1978.
3) Sigmund Jähn, born in February 1937, is a German cosmonaut and pilot, who in 1978 became the first German to fly in outer space as part of the Soviet Union’s Interkosmos program.
4) Georgi Ivanov, born in July 1940, is a Bulgarian former military officer who was the first Bulgarian cosmonaut.
5) Bertalan Farkas, born in August 1949, is the first Hungarian cosmonaut and the first Esperantist in outer space. With Charles Simonyi’s space travel, Bertalan Farkas is no longer the only Hungarian who has been to outer space (he is still the only astronaut, as Simonyi flew as a space tourist).
6) Phạm Tuân, born in February 1947, became the first Vietnamese citizen and the first Asian in outer space when he flew aboard the Soyuz 37 mission as an Interkosmos Research Cosmonaut. He was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.
7) Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, born in January 1942, is a Cuban cosmonaut and the first person of African heritage to have flown in outer space. As a member of the crew of Soyuz 38, he became the first Cuban citizen and the first person from a country in the Western Hemisphere other than the United States of America to travel into Low Earth Orbit.
8) Jügderdemidiin Gürragchaa, born in December 1947, was the first Mongolian in outer space.
9) Dumitru Prunariu, born in September 1952, is a Romanian cosmonaut. He flew in outer space aboard the Soyuz 40 spacecraft and the Salyut 6 space laboratory. He was in team with another Romanian cosmonaut called Dumitru Dediu.
10) Jean-Loup Chrétien, born in August 1938, is a French former CNES spationaut. He flew on two Franco-Soviet space missions and a NASA Space Shuttle mission. Jean-Loup Chrétien was the first Frenchman and the first western European in outer space.
11) Rakesh Sharma, born in January 1949, is a former Indian Air Force pilot who flew aboard Soyuz T-11, launched on April 2, 1984, as part of the Interkosmos program. Rakesh Sharma is the first Indian citizen to have travelled in outer space.
12) Muhammed Faris, born in May 1951, was the first Syrian and the second Arab in outer space. He flew as Research Cosmonaut in the Interkosmos program on Soyuz TM-3 to the Mir space station in July 1987, spending seven days twenty-three hours and five minutes in outer space. He returned to Earth aboard the Soyuz TM-2.
13) Aleksandr Panayotov Aleksandrov, born in December 1951, is a retired Bulgarian cosmonaut. He is the second Bulgarian to have flown to outer space, behind Georgi Ivanov.
14) Abdul Ahad Mohmand, born in January 1959, is a former Afghan Air Force aviator who became the first Afghan and fourth Muslim to journey to outer space. He became one of Soyuz TM-6 crew members and spent nine days aboard the Mir space station in 1988 as an Interkosmos Research Cosmonaut.
The program was responsible for sending into outer space the first citizen of a country other than the U.S.S.R. or the United States of America: Vladimír Remek. The Soviet Union also made offers of joint manned spaceflight on a commercial basis to the United Kingdom, Japan and Finland resulting in the first British and Japanese cosmonauts. The manned Interkosmos and similar missions also had political goals as a means of strengthening Soviet relations with the Warsaw Pact and other Soviet-friendly states.