In this week’s instalment of Patch Us In, ESA patch expert Carl Walker looks at Soyuz 40 of the Soviet space program Interkosmos, established to assist Russia’s allies with spaceflight.



In May 1981, Soyuz 40 carried cosmonauts Leonid Popov and Dumitru Prunariu – the first Romanian in space – to the Salyut 6 space station. The mission was a collaboration between the Soviet Union and Romania. Popov and Prunariu were the ninth international crew of the Interkosmos programme.


Founded by Soviet Russia in 1966, Interkosmos was designed to create cooperation between the Soviet Union and some Warsaw Pact countries (and other socialist nation allies) in space research and uncrewed scientific missions. But in 1976, talks were held in Moscow with the eight Interkosmos countries (Cuba, Czechoslavakia, Bulgaria, German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland and Romania)  on the possibilities of flying guest cosmonauts on Soviet spacecraft.


Information about the patches from the Interkosmos programme is scarce. Most of the patches are simple designs using the national flags as the main elements, some include the mission date and symbols reflecting a Soviet ‘social realism’ influence. Details of these patch designs are probably waiting to be found somewhere in the Interkosmos archives. Uncovering their origins is much like a detective story and a starting point is understanding how Interkosmos itself operated.


In December 1977, a conference of Interkosmos representatives discussed the public relations aspects and candidates for the proposed flights. New uniforms and pressure suits would have to be ordered for the cosmonauts and emblems would be needed to reflect the cooperative nature of the missions. The same month, the Interkosmos council informed the Russian aerospace equipment manufacturer NPP Zvezda that Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Germany had agreed to participate in the joint missions. Cosmonauts from these three countries had already been selected and NPP Zvezda was instructed to produce the crews’ Sokol-K spacesuits.


According to researchers, it’s likely this is when Zvezda was also instructed to produce the mission patches. The patch designers, however, still remain a mystery. By the time the second group of Interkosmos crews were selected in March 1978, including Romanian candidates Prunariu and Dumitru Dediu, the Interkosmos procedures for training and producing flight equipment (and possibly patches) were becoming more standardised.


But Prunariu (pictured) has his own theory for the origin of his patch, as he recently recalled. “Actually at the time of my spaceflight, all logistical issues were taken care of by the Romanian Military Aviation Command. The three-star general Gheorghe Zarnescu, who was the head of this institution, was very much involved with every aspect of our historic endeavour and, in a passionate way, acted at the highest level to do anything for us and for the success of the flight.”


He continues: “I don’t have specific information about who designed all of our patches, I just suspect that for ours it could have been one of the colonels in the command, an artist in his free time (who made artistic compositions from aircraft propeller blades), and who was a former military school colleague of that general.”


Prunariu concludes, “Everything was decided at that level without any involvement from us. The patches were made in a tailoring workshop of our Ministry of Defence. We just received them at Star City in Moscow, when they were already sewn on suits.”


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