A Russian Astronaut’s Final Act Of Bravery Is Simply Amazing
When we think of space stories, these days our minds might immediately drift to fictional tales such as Star Wars, Star Trek or Wall-E. But as fantastical and epic as they are, they can’t compare to the real life drama that unfolded and some of the stories that came from getting actual humans into space. We tend to focus mostly on the victories. We all remember Neil Armstrong becoming the first man to step foot on the moon and his famous quote, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
As triumphant as that was, what made it all the more sweet and poignant was the fact that so many sacrificed themselves to get humanity to the point where it could reach the stars. And not just sacrificed their time and efforts. Several lives were lost during the space race of the ’60s, and one Russian astronaut’s final act of bravery is truly a space tale to remember…
The Space Race
The United States and Russia have a long, complicated history dating back long before the alleged interference in the 2016 election.
During the Cold War, both super power nations tried asserting their dominance and superiority over each other in passive aggressive ways.
The late ’60s became a time where each raced each other to be the first in space. This era was known as the space race, and in their constant attempts to one-up each other, their strategies became much more bold.
By the late ’60s, the Soviet Union had already bested the United States on a number of occasions.
Their first major victory was in 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik (pictured here), the first satellite to break through Earth’s orbit.
But this was only the beginning. While getting this tiny device is space was impressive, what they did next was even more monumental, and would catapult them ahead in the space race to a seemingly insurmountable lead the U.S. could never pass.
Getting a device in space was one thing, but the thing on everyone’s mind at the time was if either nation would be able to successfully send a human on a round trip.
Only four years after Sputnik in 1961, the U.S.S.R. achieved what many thought was impossible and sent the very first human into space.
Even more impressive was that he returned home safely. He was a man named Yuri Gagarin, and when he arrived back on Earth, he was hailed as a national celebrity and hero.
While this was a monumental achievement for the human species, the U.S. saw it as a failure.
They worked hard to catch up, and by 1967, both the United States and the Soviet Union had successfully sent men into space.
They both also managed to send spacecrafts orbiting the Earth for several days at a time. Where was there to go from here? The next big step would be a lunar landing, so the race to the moon had begun.
In each nation’s eagerness to top the other, they became more and more desperate, and it lead to the loss of life.
America was on it’s way to figuring out how to put its own astronauts on the moon when tragedy struck.
Three astronauts, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, died inside a spaceship when a routine ground test caused an explosion. This was a tragedy due to the loss of life, and in tragedy came opportunity, as Russia saw this as their opening to win.
Leonid Brezhnev was running the Soviet Union at the time, and winning the Space Race was one of his highest priorities.
At this time, he came up with an unorthodox idea that he thought would guarantee his astronauts could make it to the moon and back.
The plan involved launching two separate spaceships instead of just one. Once in space, they would rendezvous, dock and exchange crew members. Then, they would travel back home after this. It was a bold strategy that was implemented at once.
This mission seemed extremely complicated and needlessly bold, but many were confident that they could do it.
Pictured here is the fraternity of astronauts intended for this massive Soviet undertaking. The mission was dangerous, but they were up for it.
Remember, at the time, this wasn’t just about human discovery and curiosity. Their entire nation’s reputation was on the line. They beat the Americans to orbit and to putting a human in space, and they wanted to secure their dominance by beating them to the moon.
One of the Soviets’ spaceships, Soyuz 1, was going to be manned by an astronaut named Vladimir Komarov.
Komarov is the subject of this particular tale of bravery, and it’s a tragic situation that could have been averted had anyone just listened to him.
Komarov happened to be close friends with Yuri Gagarin, the hero from the first manned space launch. He was extremely intelligent and skilled, hence why he was picked to man the mission. Yet, he had several reservations…
First of all, the hatch that led into Soyuz 1 was too narrow to allow for fully suited astronauts to quickly or easily pass in and out of.
This was an immediate red flag, but it was only the beginning of the issues discovered after a thorough inspection of the spacecraft.
Engineers found 203 problems, which were detailed in a 10-page memo. You’d think that after this, the mission would be cancelled or at least delayed. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
Not Going To Make It Back
Unfortunately, no one was brave enough to alert Leonid Brezhnev to all of the issues aboard the spacecraft.
Considering how important this was to him, admitting failure could have resulted in severe punishment. So, they all went along with it anyway and hoped for the best.
Knowing of all the problems with Soyuz 1, Komarov reportedly told Gagarin not long before the launch, “I’m not going to make it back from this flight.” He would unfortunately be correct in that prediction.
So why did Komarov go on this shuttle if he knew that it was certainly going to lead to his death?
Wasn’t he supposed to be incredibly intelligent? What type of intelligent man would willingly fly to his own death? A brave one, and a good friend.
Komarov knew if he refused the mission, then Gagarin would take his place. So instead of dooming his friend to die on this trip, he chose to go himself and spare his life.
Almost immediately after the launch, Komarov experienced problems just as he had expected he would.
One of the ship’s solar panels never deployed, he lost the ability to navigate, the thermal control system deteriorated and the ship spun out of control.
Worse yet, Komarov’s communication with ground control was almost nonexistent, so no help was on the way for them. We only know how he felt thanks to Americans listening stations in Turkey that picked up sporadic transmissions, which broadcast Komarov screaming with rage in the ship.
After five unimaginably terrifying hours dealing with these issues, Komarov hurtled back down towards Earth.
He fired retrorockets in an attempt to slow his speed so the craft’s parachute could deploy. It was his only possible chance of survival.
However, the parachute never deployed, and Komarov crashed into the Earth at full force. The impact killed him instantly. The Soviets watched in horror as their mission came to a miserable end. The space race claimed yet another victim that day.
Condemning The Mission
Soviet Union military troops rushed out to the crash site, hoping against logic that maybe Komarov managed to survive the massive crash.
But all that was left were the incredibly charred remains, unnaturally twisted metal and heaps of scorched earth.
Friends and family of Komarov, naturally, were devastated and enraged by the series of events that lead to his death. But no one was more upset than Yuri Gagarin, who risked imprisonment by giving an interview afterward where he condemned the entire mission.
Moscow held a state funeral for Komarov where his ashes were placed in a tomb in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis at Red Square.
In addition, Komarov was posthumously awarded two medals for his service to his nation. One of them was the Order of Lenin and the second was the Order of Hero.
Komarov was only 40 years old when he died. He is remembered as a brave astronaut and a true friend who died needlessly in the name of a race to the moon that his nation ultimately lost.