- A Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human to die on a space mission. Some historians believe Vladimir Komarov was sent to space in a craft that officials knew could never return.
- The cries of rage and frustration as he plunged to his death, cursing the engineers and politicians who condemned him to fly an unprepared aircraft, were recorded to the tape.
The Space Race between two Cold War rivals the Soviet Union and the United States was at its peak. Soviet test pilot and aerospace engineer Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov was chosen for the rigorous task of commanding spacecraft Soyuz 1 to reach the Moon, beating the American Apollo program.
Komarov was assigned to the program along with Yuri Gagarin, as the prime and backup pilot respectively. But the flight was beyond the capabilities of Soyuz at the time. Many engineers and cosmonauts doubted its safety and the possibilities of landing the manned spacecraft to the moon. But the head of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev wanted the launch on May 1, 1967, the National Day of Worker Solidarity.
Just days before launch, Komarov walked the KGB officer to the door and declared: “I’m not going to make it back from this flight.” If he refused the flight, the politburo would strip him of his military honors and send Juri Gagarin in his place. Komarov couldn’t send a close friend and national hero to death.
Once in orbit, it became clear the program was a failure. The spacecraft was only at half of its power and the ground’s command center gave the order to get back home as quickly as possible. As the cosmonaut reentered the atmosphere, the spacecraft was unbalanced and started spinning and eventually fell straight down completely out of control. The main braking parachute failed to deploy correctly and the module crashed into the ground with the force of a 2.8-ton meteorite.
During the long agonizing fall from orbit, the statesman during the Cold War Alexei Kosygin cried as he told the cosmonaut he was a national hero. Komarov’s wife came on the line to finish the affairs and said goodbyes. The cries of rage and frustration as he plunged to his death, cursing the engineers and politicians who condemned him to fly an unprepared aircraft, were recorded to the tape.
The remains were displayed during his funeral with the largest recognizable part the heel bone. Komarov was posthumously awarded the Gold Star Hero honor.
Valentina Komarov, the widow of Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, kisses a photograph of her dead husband during his official funeral, held in Moscow’s Red Square