James Bagian: The Only Armenian That Was In Space
The anecdote on the topic that Armenians do not fly into space, because the Armenian nose does not fit in a space helmet, has long been outdated. To be more precise, on March 13, 1989, the American astronaut, doctor, engineer, sportsman and pilot of Armenian origin, James Bagian, flew to the space by “Discovery” shuttle in the framework of the “Space Shuttle STS-29” program. Then Armenian people got another reason for pride, after all, we had our own astronaut!
James Bagian was born in 1952 in Philadelphia. His parents moved to the USA from Trabzon, in Western Armenia. According to James himself, his grandfather, Nazareth Kundebagyan, emigrated from Arabkir (Western Armenia) to America in 1913. There he married his grandmother Satenik, who was from Malatya (Western Armenia), and emigrated to America a bit earlier, in 1908. “When my grandfather emigrated to America, his name was shortened to “Bagian” in the immigration bureau” – the astronaut recalled.
“I am a second-generation: my father, his brothers and sisters were born in America, and I am Armenian by half: my mother is German, my father was the only one in the family who married a stranger – this word James said in Armenian: “Otar” and laughed”.
“All my uncle’s children by father and aunt are pure-blooded Armenians. When I was still young, and in adolescence too, we went to see our grandfather Nazareth on Sundays with the whole family, and everyone there spoke in Armenian.
Grandfather was very conservative and demanded that in his house they spoke only Armenian and he himself did not speak English, though he understood, and my father did not speak English until he was six either, and he learned English on the street on their block” – recalled James.
The father of the future astronaut, Philip, was a pilot and among 18,500 American Armenians, who served in the US Army, took an active part in the Second World War. His courageous actions were highly appreciated: Major P. Bagian was awarded the American Order of the Red Cross.
James himself, since the age of 22, was a participant in numerous aviation competitions, and since 1980, a member of a group of American astronauts. James Bagian has other professions too: he is a doctor, engineer, sportsman. In fact, he is one of the first professional physicians, who went into open space. It is noteworthy that the scientific experiments that James Bagian put in weightlessness were based on the studies of his compatriot, USSR State Prize laureate, academician Norayr Sisakyan.
By the way, Bagian’s first space flight was planned for 1985, but he did not get into the final crew list, and this saved his life: the “Challenger” exploded on the 73rd second of the flight in front of millions of viewers around the world watching the direct broadcast of it.
In June 1991, James Bagian conquered space for the second time, and in preparation for the next flight he was assisted by the chief engineer of the “Norton” company Joan Yazedjian-Poghosyan and NASA’s life support director Dr. Arnold Nikoghosyan.
Today Bagian, of course, does not appear on NASA’s astronauts lists, but he has not changed his surprisingly active way of life: James plays tennis, swims, climbs mountains. And he also has a fairly rare hobby, he loves to repair old cars.
Talking about the Armenian traditions of the family, Bagian noted that he himself can cook national dishes. “Dolma, Kufta, Yalanchi, Chorek, Kadaif – I can cook them myself. My mother also learned to cook them. My grandmother always said to her daughters and daughters-in-law: “you see, our foreign daughter-in-law prepares Armenian dishes better than you!”
“I remember that we often went to Armenian carnivals, we danced Armenian group dances, even our non-Armenians were happy to come to these dancing evenings. To be honest, one of the reasons for their popularity was the delicious Armenian dishes served there” – the astronaut said, laughing and adding that he did not have the opportunity to come to Armenia, and that, of course, he would like to see his historical homeland…