Sigmund Jähn Becomes the First German Cosmonaut

Several hundred suitably experienced Air Force pilots were personally interviewed by Lt-General Wolfgang Reinhold, the serving Vice Minister of Defense and the Commander-in-Chief of the GDR Air Force, in late July 1976.

Each man was told that volunteers were being sought for cosmonaut training an that they had 48 hours to decide if they wished to continue in the selection process.

At the end of October four finalists, all with the rank of Lt-Colonel, were selected for further tests at TsPK, arriving on 10 November for the two-week programme. They were Rolf Berger, Eberhard Golbs, Sigmund Jahn, and Eberhard Kollner. At the end of November, Jahn, and Kollner were selected as the two finalists to undergo cosmonaut training at TsPK, arriving on 6 December. Jahn eventually flew the mission aboard Soyuz 31 in August /September 1978, with Kollner aerving as back-up.

In 1976, Jähn was selected with his backup Eberhard Köllner for the Intercosmos program. He trained in Star City near Moscow for the next two years, and flew on board Soyuz 31 (launched 26 August 1978) to the Soviet space station Salyut 6, and returned on Soyuz 29 (landed 3 September 1978). He spent 7 days, 20 hours, and 49 minutes in space.

During and after the flight, he and the socialist authorities of the GDR pronounced him “the first German cosmonaut”, which was remarkable, as in those days the East German state normally stressed that their people were “GDR citizens”, to distinguish themselves from West Germany.

On the following flight, Soyuz 31, Valery Bykovsky would make a triumphant return to space along with Lt. Colonel Sigmund Jahn of the East German Air Force. Their voyage began with a launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome on 26 August 1978, ferrying supplies to the orbiting Salyut 6. They would be the second Intercosmos crew to visit Kovalyonok and Ivanchenkov, who had already been in space for 71 days.

Married, and the father of two children, Jahn had graduated from East Germany's military flying school and in 1966 was sent to the Soviet Union to study at the Gagarin Air Force Academy. Prior to his flight, he had almost two years of classes and joint training at the cosmonaut training centre.