Below is an extract of my interview with Pham Tuan, Vietnam's first and only astronaut.
Pham Tuan was the ideal candidate to become the first Asian in space, as far as Vietnam’s hard-line communist leaders were concerned. From humble beginnings in a poor village, he had already risen to the rank of national hero. Defending his homeland from sustained US attacks during the Christmas Bombings of 1972, Tuan was credited with becoming the first Vietnamese fighter pilot to shoot down a B52 in air-to-air combat – a feat many US aviators still insist was impossible.Read the rest of my profile here.
During his eight-day sojourn at the Salyut 6 space station, Tuan beamed back messages hailing Vietnam’s long struggle for independence and thanking the Communist party “for having trained me and given me wings to fly into space”.
Back on planet Earth, the hungry Vietnamese people were not so easily taken in. A popular rhyme at the time pondered: “We have no rice, we have no noodles, so why are you going into space Mr Tuan?”