The developer of a space rocket fuel based on liquid hydrogen which made moon flights possible, Barys Kit, has died at the age of 107. The Belarusian-American rocket scientist was one of the world’s oldest men.
Coming from the small Belarusian village of Aharodniki, Kit became a world-famous scientist in the field of Astronautics. He held positions including Honorary Professor of the University of Maryland (USA) and Vice-President of the Eurasian International Astronautics Academy. He was also a long-standing member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the British Interplanetary Society, and the International Academy of Astronautics in Paris.
Kit grew up under Polish rule during the interwar period, drawing the attention of the authorites while he was still in school and even being arrested as a result of his student activities. He went on to become a village teacher.
After the German invasion during the Second World War he was stopped by a patrol carrying parcels of food. After being searched, he was found to be carrying a number of German travel passes which was enough to convict him of involvement with the resistance movement. A death sentence was inevitable
“I spent 30 days in a German prison,” he recalled. “Every day I was waiting for death. It was the Gestapo. There were 30 people in the cell. Every morning German police came and chose random people to be shot. I survived. 30 times I was waiting for death to happen…”
By pure luck, a former student, Kastus Kasyak, managed to secure his freedom. Kasyak would later be hanged by the Soviets.
As the war came to an end, Kit too, was accused of collaboration because of his public role as a schoolteacher. He, however, managed to flee, making his way to friends in America.
There, at a party, he was introduced to a professor, Hustau Makshitsky, who managed to get him his first job in science, at North American Aviation.
By 1960, Kit had become an expert in his field and published the first ever book on fuel for rocket systems, the "Rocket Propellant Handbook". It was rapidly recognised as a reference work for the industry and read across the world.
From 1963 he worked at the Astronautics Bureau of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation. At the same time, American astronauts were preparing to fly to the Moon.
His best-known achievement was his work with liquid Hydrogen, developing a groundbreaking rocket fuel formula. It was this which allowed the first American flight to the moon to take place. It became the basis for many other scientists’ future research.
He also worked on satellite communication systems to help space crews keep in touch with Earth.
The name of ‘Barys Kit’ was included inside a time capsule honouring the world’s greatest space scientists, which was built into a wall of the US Capitol building in Washington DC. The capsule is intended to be opened in 500 years.
He returned to Germany in 1972 to be nearer to his homeland, retiring at the age of 82.
Kit spent his final years in a nursing home in Frankfurt-am-Mein, Germany. Even into the final days of his life he could speak 4 languages fluently: English, Belarusian, Russian and German. In his tiny room, he always displayed an American flag, a big photo of his family on the windowsill and a pile of awards on the shelf.
Due to his views on the government in his homeland, Belarus, his status was rarely recognised in the state-run media.
But that didn’t stop him remaining positive about life,
“Bring no harm to others and you'll be happy in life.”