Spaceflight has always carried with it the very possible outcome of death from every mission undertaken, even modern spaceflight carries a significant risk to the life of every human being leaving the earth’s atmosphere; imagine then finding yourself in a position of knowing you are going to die before even leaving the ground. This unfortunate position is the one celebrated cosmonaut and Soviet test pilot Vladamir Komarov found himself in during the spring of 1967. Exceptionally experienced and a brilliant engineer, Vladamir became part of the first squad of cosmonauts selected in 1960 to rival the U.S space programme, making a significant contribution to the design of the Soviet space vehicles and the training of fellow cosmonauts. In 1964 Komarov commanded the Voskhod 1 spaceflight, noted as the first flight to carry more than one crew member into space.
Being a decorated cosmonaut and Soviet hero unfortunately had its draw backs and in 1967 Vladamir was selected to command the Soyuz 1 spacecraft on it’s first trip into space. It was no secret that Komarov did not want to travel into space in the Soyuz 1 given the many technical faults with the design and numerous arguments with engineers that had occurred with himself and his fellow cosmonauts, including his close friend and the first man in space Yuri Gagarin. A letter was penned to officials high up within the Soviet space programme but due to the highly publicised space race with the U.S space agency concerns fell upon deaf ears about the safety of the Soyuz 1.
Vladamir Komarov was left in a terrible situation. If he refused to fly the Soyuz 1 into space then his friend and national hero Yuri Gagarin would be forced to go in his place. Choosing to protect his friend, Komarov agreed to fly the mission but demanded before he go that his funeral be an open-casket one so that the Soviet leadership could see what they had done to him.
Komarov’s fears about the safety of the Soyuz spacecraft became an unfortunate reality and the mission suffered huge technical failures. The left solar panel failed to deploy once the Soyuz 1 was in orbit keeping the electrical bus at only 13-14 amps. The High Frequency communications devices did not function and Vladamir was unable to rotate the solar panels on the spacecraft to face the sun keeping power to a minimal. Komarov repeatedly lost radio contact but was eventually able to manually re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on his 19th orbit of the planet. Having managed to successfully head toward home, Vladamir may have been forgiven for thinking his worries were over but unfortunately the main parachute designed to gracefully bring the Soyuz 1 command module back down to earth, failed to deploy. To make matters even worse the reserve parachute became tangled and also failed to slow the doomed spacecraft in it’s final descent to the ground. A listening post in Turkey supposedly intercepted Komarov’s final radio transmission, he could be heard screaming and cursing at the engineers and Soviet leadership who had sent him to his untimely death.
Travelling at more than 640 Km/h the Soyuz 1 spacecraft carrying Vladamir Komarov impacted the ground flattening the command module and causing the rockets designed to slow the craft to explode thus killing Komarov instantly. As requested the body of the fallen cosmonaut was on display at his funeral, unrecognisable and some say reduced to a lump of only 30 cm wide by 80 cm tall. It would appear that Vladamir Komarov had made the ultimate sacrifice to protect his friend Yuri.