This Day in History (24-Apr-1967) – Cosmonaut Vladimir Komorov becomes the first human casualty of a mission to space

Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union, decided to stage a spectacular midspace rendezvous between two Soviet spaceships, on the occasion of 50th  anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union. The first capsule to be launched would be the Soyuz 1, with Vladimir Komarov inside. The next day, a second vehicle -Soyuz 2 would take off, with two additional cosmonauts; the two vehicles would meet, dock, Komarov would crawl from one vehicle to the other. Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was nominated as a backup pilot for Soyuz 1.

A few days prior to take off, there were known flaws in the spacecraft (203 to be exact) and engineers on the spacecraft’s development team knew it wasn’t ready for a manned flight. As the launch date approached, conscientious engineers filed a ten page report outlining each of the flaws and arguing for the mission’s cancellation. Venyamin Russayev, Yuri Gagarin’s KGB escort and close friend, passed the report to a superior. The only result was his ban from ever engaging a cosmonaut or anyone affiliated with the space program in conversation again. If Komarov had refused the flight due to safety issues, the politburo would strip him of his military honors and send Gagarin in his place. Komarov couldn’t send a close friend and national hero to his death, and hence agreed to continue.

Komarov flew the ship as scheduled. Eight minutes later Komarov was in orbit, one of the Souz’s two solar panels failed to deploy starving the craft of electrical power. Other glitches developed as the day went on.  Seeing all these problems the ground control decided to abandon the Soyuz 2 launch and bring Komarov home at the first available opportunity.  But as soon as the cosmonaut reentered the atmosphere, the lopsided spacecraft was unbalanced and started spinning. Komarov’s wife came on the line and the couple spoke about his affairs and said goodbye. Finally, the cosmonaut’s yells of frustration and rage were the last sounds recorded from the spacecraft. Soyuz 1 hit the ground with the force of a 2.8 ton meteorite. The largest recognizable part of Komarov’s body during funaral was his heel bone.


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