At the height of the Cold War, two superpowers were vying to put their man on the moon. However, before the historic “one small step for man” there was a giant leap in spaceflight.
It was a daring mission, one that would end in disaster for a brave cosmonaut.
LOOK: This is the new space suit that astronauts will use on the Moon (and how they were the first to be used)
This is the story of Vladimir Komarovthe man who fell to earth.
Komarov He was the son of a worker and was born in Moscow in 1927.
At a young age, he displayed a natural talent for mathematics and a keen interest in aviation.
After graduating from flight school, he became one of the best test pilots in the Soviet Union.
“For the Soviets, komarov was perfectsays Richard Hollingham, a science writer and co-host of the “Space Boffins” podcast.
“He was a great pilot and very patriotic, which is probably why he was selected for two really prestigious space missions.”
The first flight
During the 1960s, hostilities between the United States and the USSR were at their boiling point.
As aviation technology continued to advance, in what became known as the Space Race, the two superpowers were bidding to be the first to land on the Moon.
“From the beginning, the Soviets were first in almost everything.
“The Soviet Union put Sputnik into orbit, the first satellite; it sent a dog into orbit, Laika; while The US seemed to be lagging all the time.
Cosmonauts like Komarov and the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, received highly intensive training.
“They were put in isolation chambers. They were spun at high g forces. They were even dumped in a forest with just an ax and some matches to see how they would survive in the desert if their spaceship veered off course,” Hollingham says.
In 1964, Komarov successfully completed his first spaceflight, Voskhod 1.
“That It was the first three-man spaceship.
“The apocryphal story about Voskhod 1 is that the engineer who worked on it was also assigned to be a member of the crew to fix any problems as his life would depend on getting it right.”
Soyuz and Apollo
One day after Komarov’s historic flight, Leonard Brezhnev was elected Chairman of the Communist Party and an ambitious new plan was put into motion: the Soyuz space program.
“It was a daring mission. They were going to launch a ship, which would put Komarov into orbit, and then another with two crew members on board.
“They were going to rendezvous and dock in orbit, Komarov was going to transfer to the other spacecraft and they would return to Earth on that one.”
But, as the release date approached, it became clear that Soyuz 1 was riddled with failures.
“In 1967 the program was a disaster, and there was no way these spacecraft would be allowed to fly, but there was enormous political pressure on the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution to get this spacecraft off the ground.”
At the same time, “exactly the same thing was happening with Apollo in the US,” Hollingham emphasizes.
“I have spoken with many of the engineers who worked on Apollo and they have told me that Did they know the Apollo 1 spacecraft wasn’t ready?.
“However, they put 3 astronauts in Apollo 1 on the launch pad, it caught fire and they died.”
Despite growing concerns, Soyuz 1 launched successfully on April 23, 1967.
Krasnoznamensk, we have a problem
“Komarov knew as soon as he took off that the spacecraft was in trouble.
“Once in orbit, things started to go wrong. One of the solar panels that provided power to the spacecraft failed to deploy, giving it very limited instrumentation.”
With countless problems aboard Soyuz 1, the plan for the launch of Soyuz 2 was canceled and Komarov was ordered to attempt re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
“It looked like he was going to be able to return after that disastrous mission but the parachutes failed and he crashed back to Earth.
“He probably died on the way back just from the g-force.
“When it hit the ground, the spacecraft caught fire due to a failure of the retrorockets.”
It is often claimed that during the reentry Komarov was in communication with ground control, relaying highly critical messages, but Hollingham doubts this.
“That version that he is cursing the Soviet Union, that he is saying that lessons can be learned, for me it is very unlikely.
“You wouldn’t have been able to hear that in the first place, mainly because it was coming through the atmosphere.
“And second, when it realized something was wrong, it was hurtling too fast toward Earth.”
Komarov’s remains are also a point of contention.
“There are various versions of what happened to Komarov’s remains. One is that his body was displayed so everyone could see what happened. There are photos to prove it.”
It has been said that Komarov likely knew he would not return alive and demanded that, in the event of his death, his body be displayed in an open coffin to embarrass the Soviet leadership.
“There is no evidence that that was what he was thinking. Komarov was a patriotic Soviet citizen. I don’t think he would have wanted his death to be a propaganda victory for the other side.”
On April 26, 1967, after a state funeral on Moscow’s Red Square, Komarov’s remains were buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
“For me, 1967 is really a pivotal year in the space race.
“In January there was the loss of three astronauts in the Apollo 1 fire, and then you have Komarov on Soyuz 1, the first man to lose his life in space.
“Both parties had to stop, reflect and return to the starting point“.
Vladimir Komarov’s name is one of 6 cosmonauts and 8 astronauts listed on the plaque accompanying the sculpture “The Fallen Astronaut” by Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck, left on the Moon by the Apollo 15 crew in 1971.
A tribute between the stars for the man who fell to Earth.
* This article is adapted from the BBC Reel video “Vladimir Komarov: The cosmonaut who fell to Earth”. If you want to see it, Click here
I am Jack Morton and I work in 24 News Recorder. I mostly cover world news and I have also authored 24 news recorder. I find this work highly interesting and it allows me to keep up with current events happening around the world.