Thursday, January 19, 2017
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Poles in the Space

Into The Heavens

HermaszewskiOne Pole and a few Polish Americans have traveled into space. The first and only Polish citizen to go into outer space was General Mirosław Hermaszewski (shown on the left), who participated in the Soviet space program. In 1978 he was launched into space along with a Russian cosmonaut and spent eight days circling the globe in the Soviet space station Salyut. Polish Americans who have traveled into space as part of the U.S. space shuttle program have been first Karol J. Bobko in 1983, followed in subsequent years by Scott E. Parazynski, George D. Zamka and James A. Pawelczyk.

Space travel would not have been possible without the study and hard work of many throughout the centuries. Among them have been several Poles. Kazimierz Siemienowicz (1600-51) was a Polish nobleman, military officer and artillery expert. He is considered to be one of the fathers of rocket science and published a book that included chapters on the production and properties of missiles, including long range multi-stage rockets.  Konstantin Ciołkowski (1857-1935) was a Polish Russian who is considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry and space flight. He influenced later Russian scientists who developed the Soviet space program. And Polish American Stanisław Ulam (1909-84) originated the idea of a space ship propelled by controlled nuclear explosions, yet, if ever, to be developed.

Mieczysław Bekker (1905-89) was a military engineer who designed off-road vehicles for the Polish army. During World War II he fled to France then Canada where he worked in those countries' armies. After the war he came to the U.S. where he worked for General Motors developing the Lunar Rover Vehicle. During the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions, his Moon Rovers logged seventy-five flawless lunar miles, and they stand on the Moon as permanent memorials to his genius.

Many celestial bodies and planetary features have been named by Polish astronomers and many bear names in honor of famous Poles. The Polish American Charles Kowal discovered and named Jupiter's thirteenth moon, Leda, and fourteenth, Themisto. He also discovered the first Centaurian object in the solar system as well as several asteroids, and comets that bear his name. Polish Australian Antoni Przybylski's weird heavy metal star is called Przybylski's Star.

Other bodies and features with Polish-related names include the following:

Asteroids: Silesia, Gedania (Gdańsk), Polonia, Wawel, Krakow, Minkowski, Smoluchowski, Copernicus, Curie, Straczynski, Lem, Ryba, Chopin.

Lunar Craters: Copernicus, Sierpinski, Dziewulski, Barachewicz, Dembowski, Drygalski, Hevelius, Sklodowska, Curie, Arminski, Sniadecki, Gadomski, Wapowski, Wroblewski.

Mercury Craters: Chopin, Mickiewicz

Venus Features: Craters Janina, Jadwiga, Landowska, Konopnicka, Olesnicka, Corpman (wife of Heweliusz), Wanda, Zosia, Nalkowska. Also Baba Jaga Chasma, Dziwica Chasma, Zywie Corona, Jutrzenka Valles.

Mars Features: Craters Copernicus, Curie, Sklodowska. Also Vistula Valles.


The great Polish astronomer Jan Heweliusz, also known as Hevelius, has the distinction of having portrayed and named in the late 1680s seven constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the official sanctioner of astronomical names. They are: Canes Venatici (Hunting Dogs), Lacerta (Lizard), Leo Minor (Little Lion), Lynx (Lynx), Sextans (Sextant), Vulpecula (Fox) and Scutum Sobiescianum (Sobieski's Shield). The last constellation was named in honor of Poland's King Jan III Sobieski, hero of the Battle of Vienna and financial supporter of Heweliusz. In 1922 the IAU shortened its official name to Scutum, or the Shield, apparently because it was the only constellation named for a political figure, which went against IAU's standards. There is no indication of anti-Polish bias in the decision and the constellation is still popularly called Sobieski's Shield. It can be found near the head of Sagittarius.

written by Martin S. Nowak, originally published in Polish-American Journal

Recommended reading(s):

The Book Nobody ReadThe Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus , by Owen Gingerich



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