Little Bits of History

Soyuz 1

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 24, 2013
Vladimir Komarov

Vladimir Komarov

April 24, 1967: A space mission goes from bad to worse and results in the first space mission fatality. The space race was in full swing. The Russians launched the first successful satellite on October 4, 1957. The US reacted with panic and attempted to first catch up and then surpass the USSR’s efforts. It took four months and several failures before the US could manage to become the second space power. The two superpowers continued to launch rockets. The USSR sent the first living creature into space – Laika, a small dog, did not survive. Finally on April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.

Six years later, another first. Soyuz 1 was a doomed ship. No Soyuz craft had ever successfully flown. The Politburo pushed for the launch despite being told of 200 design faults. Engineers’ concerns were dismissed so the launch could take place on Lenin’s birth date. A successful Soyuz program would give the Soviets an edge on the race to the moon. Not only was Soyuz 1 to launch, but there were plans to launch Soyuz 2, with three cosmonauts aboard, the next day.

Yuri Gagarin was the backup cosmonaut. He attempted to bump Vladimir Komarov, hoping the bureaucrats would not risk their National Hero. Komarov remained on the flight. Launched at 3:35 AM, it was the first night launch. The problems started almost immediately when a solar panel malfunctioned. All systems were compromised by the power shortage. By orbit 13, automatic stabilization systems were gone and manual override was only partially effective. The Soyuz 2 mission was changed to repair and rescue Soyuz 1.

With system failure cascading, it was decided to abort the mission. During orbit 18, retro-rockets were fired as soon as the spacecraft was above the USSR. Even with limited mobility, the spacecraft might have landed safely. But there was a faulty pressure sensor that kept the main parachute from opening. Komarov tried to manually deploy the reserve chute and it tangled. The craft fell to Earth nearly unbraked as further retro-rockets also failed to fire. Vladimir Komarov was given a state funeral. He left a wife and two children behind.

“I’m sure we would not have had men on the Moon if it had not been for Wells and Verne and the people who write about this and made people think about it. I’m rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books.” – Arthur C. Clarke

“As a kid, I knew I wanted to be either a cartoonist or an astronaut. The latter was never much of a possibility, as I don’t even like riding in elevators.” – Bill Watterson

“It is better to be wrong too soon than right too late.” – Yuri A. Gagarin

“Since Yuri Gagarin and Al Shepard’s epic flights in 1961, all space missions have been flown only under large, expensive government efforts, … By contrast, our program involves a few, dedicated individuals who are focused entirely on making spaceflight affordable.” – Burt Rutan

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Vladimir Komarov was born in Moscow in 1927. He was a test pilot, aerospace engineer, and a cosmonaut in the first group the Soviets selected in 1960. He was declared unfit for training twice, but with great effort and the knowledge he had as an engineer, he continued to play an active role in the USSR’s space program. He became a member of Air Force Group 1. He helped with space craft design and was selected to command the first Soviet multiman Voskhod 1 spaceflight. When he was also chosen to man the Soyuz 1 flight, he became the first man to enter outer space twice. His total time in outer space was two days, three hours, and four minutes. He was 40 years old when he died.

Also on this day: Greeks Bearing Gifts – In 1184 BC the Greeks bring a gift to Troy.
Hershey’s Park – In 1907, Hersheypark opened.
Looking Outward – In 1990, mission STS-31 boosted into space with the Hubble Space Telescope aboard.

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