"Not Me, So Gagarin": the tragic story of the legendary Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov
Vladimir Komarov, along with Yuri Gagarin, is considered the pioneer of Soviet and world cosmonautics. He was the first person to make two manned space flights. Unfortunately, Komarov also became the first astronaut who died during the mission.
Life and career start of an astronaut
Vladimir Komarov was born in 1927 in Moscow. In the 1950s, the future astronaut served as a military pilot in the USSR Air Force. Since 1959, he worked as an aviation engineer at the State Red Banner Air Force Research Institute, where he was engaged in testing fighters and aircraft. In addition, while working at the Research Institute, Komarov participated in the creation of the design for the future Voskhod and Vostok spaceships. It was here that Komarov was invited to participate in a secret space program.
Vladimir Komarov. | Photo: Komsomolskaya Pravda.
During the selection, which was conducted by the Soviet space command in 1960, Vladimir established himself as a highly qualified specialist and was immediately included in the cosmonaut squad No. 1. From 1960 to 1961 he underwent general space training.
During the initial medical tests, Komarov was twice declared unfit for space flight, but his determination ultimately prevailed. On April 5, 1961, Komarov was officially appointed an astronaut at the CPC (Cosmonaut Training Center), where he began preparations for manned flights on the Vostok and Voskhod ships.
Spaceship Voskhod-1. | Photo: epizodsspace.airbase.ru.
According to Novate.ru, Vladimir Komarov made his first space flight on October 12, 1964 on the world's first multi-purpose manned spacecraft Voskhod-1. The crew also included two cosmonauts: K. P. Feoktistov and B. B. Egorov.
The flight lasted 24 hours in normal mode. The ship during this time managed to make sixteen turns around the Earth. For a successful mission, all three cosmonauts were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Komarov received the highest qualification of a third-class astronaut.
After the success of the Voskhod-1 mission, the Soviet leadership, to put it mildly, became courageous. To "wipe his nose" America Leonid Brezhnev planned a grand space mission. As planned, two Soyuz-1 spacecraft were supposed to fly into space with an interval of one day, after which they docked with each other. During the docking in outer space, the astronauts had to exchange ships and return to Earth.
Vladimir Komarov during a training session. | Photo: dni.ru.
Komarov was appointed commander and sole pilot of Soyuz-1, who was the first to go into space. Training sessions went in emergency mode. Due to the rush, the design of the ship was catastrophically incomplete. Yuri Gagarin, who was also Vladimir’s best friend, was put in place as Komarov’s understudy.
Komarov and Gagarin (left) on the hunt. | Photo: Pinterest.
Both Komarov and Gagarin understood that with a high degree of probability the ship would crash, and the astronaut who piloted it would die. Komarov was repeatedly advised to abandon the flight, citing illness, to which the astronaut replied: "If I do not fly, they will send a spare. I will die instead of him (Gagarin), he must live."
With the approach of the flight date, faith in the success of the mission was lost not only for Komarov. Preflight tests showed the ship’s complete unpreparedness for spacewalk, and even more so for docking. Technicians discovered as many as 203 structural failures. On April 23, Yuri Gagarin arrived at the cosmodrome in full flight gear with Komarov. He literally begged to fly Soyuz-1 with a friend. But neither the leadership nor Vladimir himself approved his request.
This photo could have been published in case of a successful Soyuz-1 flight. | Photo: FB.ru.
A few minutes later Komarov managed the most complex ship of our time, knowing almost certainly that he would die. The problems started from the very beginning. One solar battery failed, several navigation devices turned off, the orientation system was broken, and so on. The MCC ordered the astronaut to return to Earth.
For five hours Komarov tried to orient the ship toward landing, but due to malfunctions it was impossible to do this automatically. The astronaut independently started the engines and manually oriented the ship to the desired trajectory. But the worst was to come. Komarov successfully entered the atmosphere. They managed to open the emergency brake parachute, but the main one got entangled in the slings and did not open. The device crashed into the ground at great speed and caught fire. The astronaut died on the spot.
All that remains of the ship. | Photo: yaplakal.com.
After this accident, the Soviet Union began to conduct more thorough checks of its Soyuz ships. It is a pity that this required a human sacrifice. Komarov will forever go down in history as the great astronaut who devoted his life to space exploration.
In continuation of the subject of the article, read also about training, entertainment and toilet in zero gravity: everything you need to know about life on the ISS.