Wojciech Rostafiński, a soldier of the National Army and participant of the Warsaw Uprising, became a cooperator of secret NASA projects for years after the war. His surname was placed in the Alley of the Merit during the Space research

As the first person, he elaborated a complete mathematical model of a phenomenon of passing voice waves in bent wires; empirically confirmed. He participated in NASA projects connected with examining dynamics of a drive system of rockets and what was special for him were pumps and compressors. At that time the engineer Rostafiński formulated a new indefinite integral which was included into advanced mathematical tables. He was a publicist – his works were published on 4 continents – and the author of books popularizing issues of physics and exploration of the space.

He did not waste a day

Wojciech Rostafiński, a grandson of a prominent scientist and a precursor of Polish floristics Józef Rostafiński and a son of prof. Jan Rostafiński, was born on 19 September 1921 in Warsaw. At the professor’s home three children were brought up: Anna, Wojciech and the oldest Michał. At dinner time they used to learn French, having conversations with an elderly French lady. Wojciech Rostafiński used to reminisce: ‘When I did not know something, nor my sister or brother, our father used to say: look up in the encyclopedia. So, it was how we were learning to have contact with books and get knowledge. (…) I remember that it was necessary to come at half past seven for supper during which we used to sum up the past day and plan the next one. In that common summary children were getting aware of their progress at school and also how they were behaving towards one another and other people, what somebody had read and where somebody was going on a trip. Something should have been left from every day and nothing could be wasted.

He attended a secondary school named Adam Mickiewicz in Warsaw where he passed his secondary school leaving exam in 1939. He was a member of the pre-war Polish scouting – the 5th Warsaw Scouting Team. War under care of St. Anthony

After the breakout of the war, Wojciech began his substitute studies in the institute of Wawelberg. All of the siblings were in the National Army. One day Gestapo took their parents and Anna. After eight months of Pawiak, the father was taken to a camp in Stutthof, and the mother and daughter were first in Ravensbruck, later in Buchenwald. All of them luckily survived which they thought had resulted from the care of St. Anthony, worshipped particularly by the family. In December 1942 Wojciech graduated from a conspiracy school of cadets and became a soldier of a diversion in the army of the Union of Armed Struggle and later in the National Army. In 1944 he took part in the Warsaw Uprising – as a member of the ‘Rygiel’ plutonium in which he became the commander later. He was awarded with the Cross of the Brave and at the end of the uprising also with the Order Virtuti Militari and was promoted as an officer. His conspirational surname was Bolesław Masławski, and nicknames ‘Wojciechowski’, ‘Wojciech’. After the uprising he was taken to German captivity from which he was freed by the Americans.

Successes on emigration

After being freed he set off to France where he joined the Polish Army again. In 1945 he received academic scholarship from funds of the Second Corpus of the Polish Armed Forces in Italy and began studies at the polytechnics – Ecoles Speciales – a university in Louvain in Belgium. It was when the Security Service was invigilating his whole family and captured a dozen letters from his father. The engineer Rostafiński, as a political refuge, did not accept the sovietization of Poland. On emigration he represented an attitude opting for independence. He rejected communism as an ideology unfamiliar to the Polish nation. In 1948 he graduated from the polytechnics with the degree of engineer. After a short period of his work in steel plants he began to work in the Belgian industry. In summer 1949 he got married with Maria Sikorska, a student of Romance studies in Louvain and on 17 January 1952 his son Tomasz was born.

In August 1953 he and his little Tomasz moved to the United States where he settled with the help of the family of Maria living there. In 1961 Rostafiński found a job in the National Agency of Aeronautics and Space (NASA) in Cleveland, in the state of Ohio. At that time engineers scientists were employed in hundreds literally, because a great program of flights onto the Moon had been begun. He worked there for 33 years. It was the best place in the world for him, as for intellectual excitement: an interesting work that one could not imagine a more interesting one. He mainly dealt with pumps for liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and axial compressors for a new type of jet engines used in rockets. For many years he had run projects ordered to known companies, among the others, Rocketdyne and Aerojet in California and in Florida as well as universities in Ohio and Virginia. He was a member of a commission for evaluation of scientific research in the department of Aerospace in the National Science Foundation in Washington.

In secret project NASA

He also did his own research which resulted in a range of scientific works published in NASA Reports. Every tenth worker of the agency in the 60s was a PhD. Wojciech Rostafiński joined this group after his graduating from PhD studies at Columbia University in New York, when in 1971 he passed his PhD exam and received the PhD degree at the department of applied mathematics. His PhD thesis concerned the behavior of voice waves in bent wires which was a mysterious matter for researchers at that time. As the first person, he elaborated a complete mathematical model of this phenomenon which was proved empirically. He gave a lot of lectures later and announced a lot of works in print. He participated in secret NASA projects connected with examining dynamics of a drive system of rockets.

On behalf of NASA he was conducting radio programmes on the space in the Radio Voice of America in Washington. He wrote scientific articles for magazines on four continents. In total in press he published at least three hundred articles popularizing science, descriptions of journeys and historic sketches. He published three books, including ’Imperceptible worlds’ – a book popularizing the issues of physics and exploration of the space. His works have been recorded in the Science Citation Index till today. NASA awarded the engineer Rostafiński with acknowledgment diplomas for his scientific achievements, among the others, for formulating a new indefinite integral which was included into the advanced mathematical tables. He represented NASA agency at many scientific conferences and seminaries in the USA and Canada. As the only Polish scientist in the West he had been a member of NASA Speaker’s Buraeu for years.

He always felt as a Pole, so on emigration he ran a Polish School in Cleveland. Beside such professors as Alexander Schenker, Roman Szporluk or Piotr S. Wandycz, he opened a conferences of the Polish Scientific Institute in America. Rostafiński was also a thorough observer and critic of the Polish reality after 1989. For his unselfish service for the sake of the national culture in 1993 he received the command of the order of the rebirth of Poland from the Polish Embassy in Washington and in 1998 the command of the Order of Merits for the Republic of Poland. He died on 6 July 2002 in Cleveland.

Brought up for Polishness

The son of Wojciech Ropstafiński – Tomasz Jan Rostafiński is a PhD of psychology in Chicago where, beside his scientific work, he works in the Polish radio. His older daughter – Karolina Rostafińska- Merk lives in Cleveland, and his younger daughter, Anna Rostafiński – in Lakewood (Ohio). All the siblings speak Polish language fluently and promotes it among the American Polish Diaspora.


„Niedziela” 30/2019

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: