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Sigmund Jähn

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Sigmund Jähn
Sigmund Jähn, 1978
Sigmund Werner Paul Jähn

(1937-02-13)13 February 1937
Died21 September 2019(2019-09-21) (aged 82)
NationalityGerman (DDR)
Space career

Interkosmos Cosmonaut
Rank Generalmajor, Air Forces of the National People's Army
Time in space
7d 20h 49m
Selection1976 Intercosmos Group
MissionsSoyuz 31/Soyuz 29
Mission insignia

Sigmund Werner Paul Jähn (German: [jɛ:n]; 13 February 1937 – 21 September 2019) was a German pilot, cosmonaut, and Generalmajor (equivalent to a Brigadier General in Western armies) in the National People's Army of the GDR. He was the first German to fly into space as part of the Soviet Union's Interkosmos program in 1978.

Early life


Jähn was born on February 13, 1937, in the town of Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz, located within the Vogtland region of Saxony, Germany.[1] His father, Paul Jähn, was a sawmill worker, and his mother, Dora Jähn, was a housewife.[2] Sigmund attended grade school from 1943 to 1951 and then trained in an apprenticeship program as a book printer from 1951 to 1954.[3] Shortly after the apprenticeship, he worked as a Pioneer Leader at the Hammerbrücke Central School.[4][5] Jähn (via his father's stories and memorabilia) and his father were impressed by the early rocketry pioneers of the 1920s around Fritz von Opel and the first manned rockets on land and in the air,[6] igniting his enthusiasm for aviation, rocketry and spaceflight.

Replica of Opel RAK rocket cars, bikes, and aircraft, originally demonstrated in the 1920s

On April 26, 1955, Jähn enlisted into the predecessor of the East German Army in the town of Preschen and eventually worked his way into the East German Air Force. He finished basic training in 1956, enrolling into the Officer's School in Kamenz, and was sent to flight school in the town of Bautzen, which would later become its own Officer's School for military pilots. Jähn returned to his squadron, the Jagdfliegergeschwader 8, or Fighter Aviation Squad 8, two years later and remained there until 1960, when he and his team were relocated one last time to Marxwalde. During his flight career, he saved himself from crashing by ejecting from the Mig-17 he was piloting.[7] He worked as the Deputy Commander for Political Affairs in his squadron from 1961 to 1963, then headed the Air Tactics/Air Combat division until 1965. At the same time, Jähn passed his Abitur and was sent to the J.A. Gagarin Air Force Academy in Monino, just outside of Moscow, Russia. Between 1970 and 1976, he was an inspector for fighter-pilot training and flight safety under the Deputy Head of the LSK/LV for Air Force Training of the Kommando LSK/LV.

Jähn achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was selected for the Soviet Union's Interkosmos cosmonaut training program in November 1976, alongside three other candidates (Eberhard Köllner, Rolf Berger, and Eberhard Golbs). Jähn and Köllner were selected out of the three candidates to be included in the first Interkosmos group.[1] In addition to Jähn's previous flying experience and expertise with the Russian language, he was selected for his early entry into the SED[1] program and his success coming from a blue-collar background.[4]

Space career



MiG-21 fighter plane, which was also flown by Jähn, in front of the German Space Travel Exhibition in Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz (2015)

Jähn and Köllner began training together in 1976, with Köllner serving as his backup pilot. The two candidates spent the next two years conducting mission-specific training and their physical health was closely monitored by physicians at the NVA's Institute for Aviation Medicine in preparation for their upcoming flight.[8][9]

Soyuz 31 mission


On August 26, 1978, Jähn and his co-pilot, Valery Bykovsky flew aboard the Soyuz 31 to the Soviet space station Salyut 6. The two men were greeted by resident cosmonauts Vladimir Kovalyonok and Aleksandr Ivanchenkov who arrived during the Soyuz 29 mission. Jähn's flight lasted 7 days, 20 hours, 49 minutes, and 4 seconds - orbiting Earth 124 times. During the mission, he conducted numerous scientific experiments. These included technical experiments with the MKF-6 multispectral camera for remote sensing of the Earth's surface, material science experiments on crystallization, like the formation, recrystallization, and the cultivation of a monocrystal. He also conducted medical experiments on how weightlessness affects speech, occupational psychological studies, testing the hearing sensitivity of regular crew members, biological experiments on cellular growth under weightlessness, and the connection between microorganisms with organic polymers and inorganic substances.

Among the advanced scientific equipment on board, the two cosmonauts carried mementos from home. Jähn brought a figurine of Das Sandmännchen, a well-known East German television character at the time, and Bykovsky brought a Misha doll, a character from a Soviet-era children's book series. They even broadcast a wedding between the two characters, which became controversial among East German and Soviet media outlets.[10]

The Soyuz 31 remained docked to the Salyut 6 station until the custom-made seats were transferred between both Soyuz craft, where it was then used as a return vessel for Kovalyonok and Ivanchenkov. Jähn and Bykovsky later returned in the Soyuz 29 craft.

Jähn received permanent injuries to his spinal cord after an unexpectedly rough landing. Just a few yards from the ground, a gust of wind thrust the capsule back into the air, causing it hit the ground with increased momentum.[11] Jähn couldn't reach the capsule's parachute-release switch in time and was consequently dragged across the steppes where it landed, rolling over itself several times before coming to a stop.

Jähn's national space patch from the air force of the National People's Army

Media reception


The report on the space flight was prepared like a general staffing brief: on the morning of August 26, 1978, the editors in chief of the GDR radio stations and newspapers all received three sealed and numbered letters. Each one contained a different announcement depending on the outcome of the flight, whether it was successful, resulted in a fatal accident, or an emergency landing in enemy territory. The corresponding letter was only to be opened and published following a telephone call with specific instructions. After the mission was a success, the letters with the negative outcomes were then collected from the organizations.[7]

Jähn's space flight was celebrated and covered extensively by GDR media outlets, since one of the smaller German states was home to the first German in space. On Sunday, August 27, 1978, Neues Deutschland published a special edition newspaper with the headline "The First German in Space - A Citizen of the GDR". Specifically using the word "German" in reference to a citizen of Germany was not usually used in the GDR media.[12] The Aktuelle Kamera also published numerous special programs about the mission.[13]

Sigmund Jähn with the Hero of the GDR and Hero of the Soviet Union medals, April 1981

Jähn was awarded the Hero of the GDR and the Hero of the Soviet Union medals in April, 1981, and a bust of the cosmonaut was unveiled in the Hain der Kosmonauten (trans. Hall of Cosmonauts) in front of the Archenhold Observatory in East Berlin. It was removed in 1990, though was later replaced with a new version in the Saxony State Statistical Office on February 22, 2008.[14] Some schools, recreational centers, street names, and the cargo ship Neptun 421 were named in honor of Jähn throughout his lifetime. The observatory in Rodewisch, Germany, where Sputnik 1 was first observed from Earth, was also renamed after Jähn in 1979.

An exhibition dedicated to space flight and aeronautics was constructed in the former train station of his home town Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz. This exhibit received multiple additions between 1991 and 1992, and the name was formally changed to The German Space Exhibition. Since 2007, the expanded sections have been housed in a newer building not far from the original location. Furthermore, a 4.5m (~14.8 ft.) memorial was erected in the same town to commemorate the first German cosmonaut in space.[15]

In the 2003 German film Good Bye, Lenin!, Jähn is the boyhood hero of the film's protagonist, Alex Kerner. As part of an effort to prevent his mother from learning that the Berlin Wall came down while she was in a coma and that East Germany no longer exists as a separate nation, Kerner locates a taxi driver (played by Swiss actor Stefan Walz), who resembles the cosmonaut, to appear in a fake newscast as the successor of Communist Party Secretary Erich Honecker. "Comrade Jähn" gives a speech proclaiming that he will open the East German borders to welcome West German refugees.[16][17]

Sigmund Jähn in front of the bust of Yuri Gagarin in the Hain der Kosmonauten at the Archenhold Observatory, 1981

The German public broadcaster Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk organized a themed event for his 80th birthday. It aired as part of a special television program "Sigmund Jähn and the Heroes of the Stars" on the nights of February 12 and 13, 2017.

In an interview with Der Spiegel 30 years after his space flight, Jähn commented: "But the celebratory reports weren't music to my ears; I didn't want to be made into a folk hero. (. . .) I found the spotlight more strenuous than traveling in space."[18]

Die Zeit stated in 2018: "To this day, many West Germans do not know the first German in space. (. . .) Conversely, all former GDR citizens know who Sigmund Jähn is."[1]

Later career


Jähn was promoted to colonel in 1978 following the success of the Soyuz 31 space flight and was subsequently promoted to Deputy Head of the Center for Cosmic Training within the Kommando LSK/LV.[19] He remained deputy head of the training center until 1990.

In 1983, Jähn received his doctorate of science in remote sensing of the Earth at the Zentralinstitut für Physik der Erde in Potsdam. He studied under the leadership of Karl-Heinz Marek, the department head for remote sensing at that time. Jähn's doctoral thesis, among other topics, was based on the scientific preparations and evaluations of various kinds of flight missions.

Jähn became one of the founding members of the Association of Space Explorers in 1985.

On March 1, 1986, Jähn was promoted to major general. Following the dissolution of the GDR on October 2, 1990,[20] he was relieved from duty alongside the last remaining command staff of the NVA, like Major General Lothar Engelhardt and Admiral Theodor Hoffmann.

Jähn became a freelance consultant for the German Aerospace Center until 1993.[21] He then worked for the European Space Agency, or ESA following their ongoing projects with the Russian space agency Roscosmos in Zvyozdny Gorodok. He obtained this position with the support of his West German colleague Ulf Merbold and remained there for the following 15 years. The two had met in 1984 during a conference held in Salzburg.[22]

He retired in 2002. In 2011, on the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight by Yuri Gagarin, he explained to Der Spiegel that taking the Das Sandmännchen toy on his flight was not a personal choice, but rather he took the figurine in order to film material for the show.

Private life


Sigmund Jähn lived in Strausberg with his wife, Erika Hänsel, and two daughters, Marina and Grit.[2] He and his wife lived there until his passing on September 21, 2019, and was buried in the St. Mary's Protestant Cemetery in Strausberg.[23][24][25]

When Sigmund returned from his space flight, he was greeted by his family with a picture of his grandson. This was ultimately concealed by GDR news stations because his role as a grandfather wouldn't have conformed to the desired image the space agency wanted to promote.


Jähn in 2009



"Dear television viewers of the German Democratic Republic, I am very happy to be the first German to take part in this manned space flight."

— Sigmund Jähn, via radio transmission during his stay in space, 1978

"The flight director's voice in the headphones sounded almost solemn: 'Podjom - climb!' At first it was as if thunder was thundering in the distance.The dull rumbling quickly got closer and closer. The rocket began to vibrate, as if trembling to get away from the crater of a volcano it was sitting on, as quickly as possible. I didn't see it from our capsule 50 meters above the earth, but eyewitnesses later told me about this unique spectacle. It looked like a fire-breathing dragon, emitting a sea of flames and smoke.The rays from the five engines raged red, yellow, blue and violet. A fascinating sight. My heart rate was elevated. But this heart pounding wasn't fear, but rather stimulating. And what I saw then was total bliss: our earth covered in bright blue. Simply fantastic."

— Sigmund Jähn, in an interview with Superillu in 1998

"As a pilot, I simply couldn't resist the offer to fly such a space capsule..."

— Sigmund Jähn

"Humans are so advanced, scientifically and technically, that they fly around the earth in spaceships. And on earth he smashes his head with the other one like in the Stone Age. It seems very vivid when you go around this small earth in 90 minutes."


  • Erlebnis Weltraum. Military Publishing House of the GDR, Berlin 1983, ISBN 3-327-00710-1, 3rd unchanged edition, Berlin 1985.
  • Fickers, Andreas [de], Frieß, Peter, ed. (1993). Ulf Merbold und Sigmund Jähn sprechen über die Entwicklung der Raumfahrt in beiden Teilen Deutschlands während des Kalten Kriegs und nach der Vereinigung [Ulf Merbold and Sigmund Jähn Talk About the Development of Space Travel in Both Parts of Germany During the Cold War and After Reunification]. TechnikDialog (in German). Bonn: Deutsches Museum. OCLC 907718673.




  1. ^ a b c d e Hensel, Jana [de]. "Sigmund Jähn: Warum ist dieser Mann kein Held?" [Sigmund Jähn: Why Is This Man Not a Hero?]. Die Zeit (in German). 22 August 2018. ISSN 0044-2070. Retrieved 15 November 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Biografie von Sigmund Jähn (1937-2019) - Sächsische Biografie | ISGV e.V." Sächsische Biografie (in German). Retrieved 15 November 2023.
  3. ^ Ebeling, Petra (30 May 2014). "Diese Prominenten hatten Jobs in der Druckindustrie / Karrierlieter- print.de" [These Celebrities Had Jobs in the Printing Industry]. Deutscher Drucker [de] (in German). Archived from the original on 20 October 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2023.
  4. ^ a b "Biografie von Sigmund Jähn" (in German). European Space Agency. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  5. ^ Hensel, Jana [de]. "Sigmund Jähn: Dort oben" [Sigmund Jähn: Up There]. Die Zeit (in German). 23 September 2019. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  6. ^ German TV documentary on Opel RAK including interview with Jähn
  7. ^ a b "Kosmonaut Sigmund Jähn | MDR.DE". Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (in German). 16 February 2010. Retrieved 16 November 2023.
  8. ^ "East German Cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn: 'Capitalism Now Reigns in Space'". Der Spiegel. 12 April 2011. ISSN 2195-1349. Retrieved 16 November 2023.
  9. ^ "Выпуск программы «Время» в 21:00 16 ноября 2023 года. Новости. Первый канал". Channel One (in Russian). Retrieved 17 November 2023.
  10. ^ "DDR-Fernsehen: Das Sandmännchen kam, sah und streute". Die Welt (in German). 21 September 2020. Retrieved 16 November 2023.
  11. ^ Schindler, Jörg (29 January 2019). "Held am Himmel" [Hero in the Heavens]. Frankfurter Rundschau (in German). Retrieved 16 November 2023.
  12. ^ "Sigmund Jähn 80: »Rehabilitierung wovon?«". junge Welt (in German). Retrieved 16 November 2023.
  13. ^ "East German Cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn: 'Capitalism Now Reigns in Space'". Der Spiegel. 12 April 2011. ISSN 2195-1349. Retrieved 16 November 2023.
  14. ^ Fiß, Gerhard (2015). "Aus der Laudatio zur Wiederaufstellung der Büste Sigmund Jähns im Statistischen Landesamt des Freistaates Sachsen am 22. Februar 2008" [From the laudatory Speech for the Re-installation of the Bust of Sigmund Jähn in the State Statistical Office of the Free State of Saxony on 22 February 2008]. In Jäkel, Horst (ed.). Heimat DDR. Erlebnisse. Betrachtungen. Erkenntnisse. Dokumente [Homeland GDR: Experiences, Observations, Insights, Documents] (in German). Schkeuditz: GNN-Verlag [de]. p. 353. ISBN 978-3-89819-416-7.
  15. ^ "Deutsche Raumfahrtausstellung Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz". German Space Travel Exhibition (in German). 23 October 2011. Archived from the original on 23 October 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2023.
  16. ^ Seidler, Christoph (22 September 2019). "Nachruf auf Sigmund Jähn / Der leise Held" [Obituary for Sigmund Jähn: The Quiet Hero]. Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  17. ^ Goodbye, Lenin! at IMDb
  18. ^ "Der erste Deutsche im All, Sigmund Jähn, über seine historische Reise, seinen Nachfolger Alexander Gerst und die Rolle des Kommandanten an Bord einer Raumstation" [The First German in Space, Sigmund Jähn, on His Historic Journey, His Successor Alexander Gerst, and the Role of a Commander on a Space Station]. Der Spiegel (in German). 2 June 2018. p. 100.
  19. ^ "Biografie von Sigmund Jähn". European Space Agency. Retrieved 16 November 2023.
  20. ^ "German reunification", Wikipedia, 12 November 2023, retrieved 16 November 2023
  21. ^ ""Sigmund Jähn: erster Deutscher im All"" [Sigmund Jähn: First German in Space]. Stuttgarter Nachrichten (in German). Archived from the original on 28 September 2008.
  22. ^ Gerlach, Thomas [de]. "Zum Tod von Sigmund Jähn: Hoch hinaus mit Bodenhaftung" [On the Death of Sigmund Jähn: Aim High but Stay Well-Grounded]. Die Tageszeitung. 23 September 2019. ISSN 0931-9085.
  23. ^ "Weltraumpionier Sigmund Jähn verstorben" [Space Pioneer Sigmund Jähn is Deceased]. German Aerospace Center (in German). Retrieved 17 November 2023.
  24. ^ "Raumfahrer Sigmund Jähn ist tot" [Astronaut Sigmund Jähn is Dead]. n-tv (in German). Retrieved 17 November 2023.
  25. ^ "Sigmund Jähn, first German cosmonaut to fly in space, dies at 82 | collectSPACE". collectSPACE.com. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  26. ^ Lasch, Hendrik. "Im All geehrt, in Halle nicht" [Honored in Space, Not in Halle]. Neues Deutschland (in German). Retrieved 17 November 2023.
  27. ^ Die Prinzen - Wer ist Sigmund Jähn? (in German), retrieved 17 November 2023
  28. ^ "Website der Stadtverwaltung: Stadt Dommitzsch". www.dommitzsch.de. Retrieved 17 November 2023.
  29. ^ "Dr.-Sigmund-Jähn-Straße in Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz offiziell enthüllt | Freie Presse - Oberes Vogtland". Freie Presse (in German). Retrieved 17 November 2023.

Media related to Sigmund Jähn at Wikimedia Commons