Boosting Hungary's Space Industry, Interview with Hungarian Astronauts

Magyar Nemzet interviewed the two astronauts selected in the Hungarian to Orbit (Hunor) program about their training, experiences and tasks yet to be completed. What lies at the heart of Hungary’s space program is not a Hungarian travelling to space again after forty-four years, but the boosting of the Hungarian space industry through the experiments carried out on the International Space Station. „Space industry is not a resource- or material-intensive industry, but a knowledge-intensive industry. Hungary has a lot of smart engineers and doctors who can reach results in this field. It's the same as with the Olympics and our top athletes. We have very talented athletes who are persistent, even if not all the conditions are given for preparation. With perseverance and hard work, we can often overtake even those who are at the technological forefront of the world, said one of the research astronauts.

2024. 06. 12. 16:27
Hungarian astronauts Tibor Kapu (left) and Gyula Cserenyi (Photo: Hunor)
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At first, I felt rather ambivalent about being chosen as the research astronaut for the mission. On the one hand, it is a huge honor, but on the other hand, the fellow candidates and I worked hard for more than a year for a goal that they could not reach now. After the decision, I was somewhat in a strange mood, and that evening I went to see my family in Nyiregyhaza to tell them the news in person. From that moment on, I was overwhelmed with happiness, Tibor Kapu, the selected research astronaut for the Hunor (Hungarian to Orbit) program, told Magyar Nemzet.

Gyula Cserenyi, selected as the reserve research astronaut, talked about the selection process, saying that after hearing the result, he felt a little sad because he came second, but all of that was overcome by a feeling of success and pride.

I waited outside for the others, because we agreed to wait for each other after the announcement of the results. Tibor Kapu came out second and told me that he is the astronaut for the mission. I was truly happy about his success and delighted that I can continue working with him,

Gyula Cserenyi highlighted.

Proud families

The decision deeply stirred the emotions of the two astronauts' families, with Tibor Kapu saying that his parents were filled with pride mixed with worry.

My mother is more worried than proud, and my father is obviously  the prouder, because he thinks it's really cool that his son is the one who can go up to the space station,

Tibor Kapu said, adding that the past 14 months have been extremely stressful not only for them but also for their families.

It was no different in Gyula Cserenyi's family, with the reserve research astronaut saying that the past more than one year period has been demanding for them as well. His second child was born during this time, so they also faced many challenges.

Tibor Kapu and Gyula Cserenyi (Photo: Hunor)

Years of training

Speaking about the training process and their experiences, they said they never encounter any difficulties that would made them give up. They enjoyed the long hours of learning, the hard physical training, and the specific training elements, which were often difficult.

Perhaps the hardest moment was when we met with the other candidates in March 2022 and saw that there were a lot of incredibly competent people applying for the job,

Tibor Kapu added. He then pointed out that when only the four selected candidates were left in the program, he realized that he was not competing with his colleagues, but with himself. 

Basically, our more general training elements were about acquiring theoretical knowledge, followed by a lot of physical training, flying and isolation exercises, which were all very intense and demanding,

Gyula Cserenyi said, adding that each phase of the training had its challenges, difficulties and beauties.

The two astronauts will soon continue their learning process in the United States, where they will complete a mission-specific training over a period of eight to ten months, Tibor Kapu said.

A very big part of this is about familiarizing the four astronauts who will share the space capsule with the most important structures, elements, modules and, of course, emergency procedures of the International Space Station,

Tibor Kapu highlighted.

Tibor Kapu  (Photo: Hunor)

Regarding further training, Gyula Cserenyi explained that as a reserve astronaut, his training will be largely identical to the training Tibor Kapu will receive, but at the same time, his reserve duties include participation in ground control, so he must be fully prepared to perform these tasks as well. 

The work of an astronaut in space must be constantly supported. There are tools for this and protocols to follow. I'm going to get that side of the training too,

he explained.

In the spotlight

Increased media attention is also a challenge. After the two research astronauts had been picked, they were flooded with interview requests, with everyone wanting to know who Tibor Kapu and Gyula Cserenyi are.

It's invigorating to have so many people interested in you. We're happy to respond to the requests. We've been guests on four radio shows recently. We entered the studio and everyone we met, the presenters, the crew looked at us with a shine in their eyes. And these interviews always turned into a good conversation,

said Tibor Kapu, adding that the past week and a half can be described as a media rush without any exaggeration.

Gyula Cserenyi, the reserve astronaut, considers himself to be the more reserved of the two of them, but despite this, he did not experience the high media attention as an ordeal.

It's great to see so much interest and support. Many people know why it is a fantastic thing that we can test the products, researches and experiments of Hungarian researchers in an environment that they probably would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise within five to ten years,

he said, stressing that the Hunor program gives a huge boost to Hungary's space industry.

Five research areas

The two research astronauts also spoke about the tasks to be done on the International Space Station: the primary goal of the Hunor program is to carry out Hungarian experiments in space.

Hungarian companies, universities, and research teams are behind the experiments. Some projects have started to germinate even before the start of the program. What we usually say is that these are the experiments that brought the program to life,

Tibor Kapu said, adding that dozens of experiments had been submitted to the Hunor program by various organisations by the deadline last December. The selected plans go through a process overseen by NASA to check whether they are suitable for implementation and safe enough to be carried out on the space station. 

Gyula Cserenyi pointed out that the program builds on five basic experiments, mainly related to plant cultivation, building material foaming, medical diagnostics, telemedicine and radiation measurement. 

All of these are very important, because they can produce results that can later affect everyday life,

Cserenyi said.

Gyula Cserenyi (Photo: Hunor)

Since its launch, the Hunor program has been criticized by various public figures, who argued that Hungary is too small to be seriously represented in the space race, and instead of training astronauts and space industry professionals, the focus should be put on some other areas.


Taking a slice and giving a push

Regarding the criticism of the Hungarian space program, Tibor Kapu explained that, in principle, Hungary is too small to compete with great powers at the Olympics, yet Hungarian athletes regularly beat competitors from big countries.

We say that the space industry is not a resource- or material-intensive industry, but a knowledge-intensive industry. We have a lot of smart engineers and doctors who can reach results in this field. It's the same as with the Olympics and our top athletes. We have very talented athletes who are persistent, even if not all the conditions are given for preparation. With perseverance and hard work, we can often overtake even those who are at the technological forefront of the world,

Tibor Kapu pointed out, adding that today space research is based on collaboration between nations.

The space industry is like a big cake, and we want to get as big a slice of it as possible. We want to put our foot in the door, we want to ensure that Hungarian products and Hungarian companies are represented in this sector, and to this end, we need to take Hungarian experiments and Hungarian devices into space with the help of the Hunor program,

the astronaut pointed out. Among other things, the aim of the program is to give another boost to Hungary's space industry.

When our first ever astronaut, Bertalan Farkas went into space 44 years ago, he took a lot of Hungarian equipment and experiments with him, but we have to admit that over time, our knowledge and role in human spaceflight has faded. We want to give it a push again,

Tibor Kapu said. A growing number of Hungarian universities are ready to launch training for space engineers to meet the needs of the space industry, while in the long term the space industry can also generate jobs, as astronauts are backed by training and research teams, companies and universities that create the conditions for astronauts to eventually go into space, he added.

It is estimated that every forint, dollar or euro invested in space activities will pay off sixfold in the coming years. We see that economically this is an incredibly profitable area,

Gyula Cserenyi noted, pointing out that there are some areas in space research where Hungary is particularly strong, such as dosimetry, the assessment and quantification of the physical and physiological effects of radiation. This advantage must be maintained in the period ahead.

Cover photo: Tibor Kapu, astronaut selected for mission, and Gyula Cserenyi, reserve astronaut (Source: Hunor)

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