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Ukraine's Only Astronaut Sad To See Space Shuttle Program End

Ukrainian astronaut Leonid Kadenyuk
Ukrainian astronaut Leonid Kadenyuk
Leonid Kadenyuk, the only Ukrainian citizen to fly into space on a U.S. space shuttle, has expressed regret at the end of the 30-year-old space program, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

"I am sorry that this period is ending. These shuttles could have done a lot more interesting and valuable work in exploring space," Kadenyuk told RFE/RL in an interview on July 21 from his home in Kyiv.

Kadenyuk made his flight on NASA's "Columbia" in 1997. He said preparation for the flight and the flight itself was "the most interesting period of my life."

The space shuttle program ended on July 21 when the "Atlantis" landed in Florida, marking the last of the 135 space shuttle missions.

Kadenyuk, 60, is a former Soviet pilot who was selected for the Soviet cosmonaut team in 1976. However, he made his first and only flight into space only after Ukraine became independent and the U.S. government decided to support a joint space mission.

While aboard the "Columbia," Kadenyuk conducted experiments designed to study how a weightless environment affects plant growth and biomass. Kadenyuk orbited the earth 252 times, logging a total of 15 days, 16 hours, and 34 minutes in space.

Kadenyuk regrets that no Ukrainian citizen was able to follow him into space. He puts part of the blame on the Ukrainian authorities who, in his view, are currently using only "3-5 percent" of Ukraine's space industry potential.

Commenting on the end of the U.S. space shuttle program, Kadenyuk said it was commercially unfeasible and there were questions regarding the safety of the flights, but overall "these shuttles have done an immense [amount of] work in space exploration."