Sigmund Jähn, First German in Space and a Hero Back Home, Dies at 82


Sigmund Werner Paul Jähn was born on Feb. 13, 1937, in Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz, in the Vogtland district, a mountainous region in southeast Germany on the Czechoslovakian border. His father was a sawmill worker, his mother a homemaker. Mr. Jähn trained to be a printer before he joined the East German National People’s Army. He became a pilot and eventually flew the most advanced Soviet fighter jets.

The first airplanes he ever saw as a boy were Allied bombers on their way to drop their payloads on Germany toward the end of World War II, he said in interviews.

He rose through the ranks of the army’s air division, serving as political officer, trainer and crash inspector before being secretly admitted — after a series of grueling physical tests — for Russian cosmonaut training in 1976. Mr. Jähn attributed his success as a cosmonaut to his Russian- language skills and a strong stomach.

“I didn’t get sick even once,” he told the newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last year.

After his historic spaceflight, he was said to have been considered for a leadership position in the Communist Party, although in a 2018 interview he said that he was unsuitable for “loud speeches.”

By the time Germany reunified in October 1990, Mr. Jähn had earned the rank of major general in the people’s army. After the army was dissolved upon reunification, he unemployed briefly before signing up with the German Aerospace Center and later the European Space Agency as a consultant. He moved to Star City, the center of Russian cosmonaut training, outside Moscow, to instruct recruits.

His survivors include his wife, Erika, and two daughters.

Mr. Bykovsky died this year.

On their mission together in 1978, Mr. Jähn had taken with him a toy figurine of Sandmännchen, a well-known character on an East German children’s television show, only to learn that Mr. Bykovsky had also brought a toy, of the Russian character Masha.

“I was supposed to shoot footage for a children’s program while in orbit,” Mr. Jähn explained to Spiegel Online in a 2011 interview. “To that end, the Sandmännchen even wore his own spacesuit, specially made.”

In an unplanned show of unity, the men filmed the characters having a pretend marriage celebration, but the footage could not be shown on East German television, Mr. Jähn said. Sandmännchen, it turned out, was supposed to remain single.

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