Orbiting above the Earth in April of 1967, Russian Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov sat in the Russian-made Soyuz 1 space capsule, sure that he would be dying that day.
Fuel was low, construction of the craft was sub-par, and little did he know, the parachutes on his landing craft were faulty.
Life and Career of Vladimir Komarov
Vladimir Komarov was a Soviet test pilot in the 1960s, one of the first few people to be selected for the ambitious space program racing the US to the moon.
He was born in Moscow, on March 16th, 1927. Highly decorated officer, Vladimir worked on vehicle design for "Vostok" and "Voskhod". In October 1950 Komarov married Valentina Yakovlevna with whom he had two children.
During selection process that was performed by Soviet Space Command in 1960, Vladimir was one of the most highly qualified individuals, immediately being put into the USSR Group Air Force No. 1 Cosmonaut squadron. At the same time, he was the second oldest pilot.
During initial training, he was declared medically unfit twice for a journey into space, but his determination kept him going.
Mission Voskhod 1
During his first space flight, all went well.
Vladimir Komarov was selected as the commander of the of the first multi-man spaceflight aboard the Voskhod 1 spacecraft. The mission left Earth in 1964 and resulted in 7 men spending just over 24 hours in space. Touchdown back on Earth was successful and the mission was declared a huge success for the Russian space program.
The mission of Soyuz 1
After this successful mission, Vladimir Komarov was selected to lead the following: a trip into orbit on the Soyuz 1. It was a one-man mission, and Yuri Gagarin, a fellow cosmonaut trained right alongside with him. During the engineering of the craft, it was discovered that the design of the craft would not allow a cosmonaut to exit the hatch safely. Engineers assured Vladimir it would be alright. He unfortunately never had the ability to test it.
While training, Vladimir Komarov and his fellow cosmonaut constantly had their schedules rearranged without notice and were forced to work 12 to 14 hour a day. Engineering problems with the craft persisted, and Vladimir became confident that he would die during his voyage on Soyuz 1. Soviet Space Command still wanted to send him into space even though it was clear that the plan has its flaws.
Vladimir, of course, could have backed out of the mission, but he knew this would most certainly mean sending Yuri Gagarin, his backup, to his death. Komarov chose to go forward with the mission to save Yuri, but before he left, his final wish was that his funeral has an open casket so the engineers and Soviet leadership could view his remains.
The mission got off of Earth with no problems, but when the Soyuz 1 capsule was deployed in space, 1 of 2 solar arrays failed to open. This failure meant that the capsule would be functioning on low power.
This was only the beginning of the problems.
The high-frequency communications on the craft stopped working altogether. The DO-1 manual thrusters used to orient the craft did not have enough pressure to work properly. Vladimir Komarov was trapped in a box with limited functionality, orbiting above the Earth. Since the Soyuz 1 had so many problems in space, the planned support mission to run tests on the module was never launched. Following this decision, officials told Komarov to begin the process of re-entry.
Vladimir Komarov tried to reorient the Soyuz 1 using the ion system, but the entire system failed. He had to wait out 4 more orbits around the Earth before he could align the craft with the Sun to re-enter, due to the failure. After 19 orbits, Komarov successfully re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and began his descent. Getting this far in the mission was something that took significant amounts of effort. It was all in vain.
Upon return, the module's braking parachute failed to deploy correctly. The capsule thus maintained too high of a speed upon landing and crashed into the ground, killing Komarov.
Famously, according to NPR, as Vladimir Komarov passed through the Earth's atmosphere and over U.S. listening posts in Turkey at the time, it was picked up that he was crying in the capsule, "cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship."
He will be remembered as the first man in human history who died in a space accident.
His fellow cosmonaut and friend, Yuri Gagarin, died soon after (1968) in a plane crash.
Full details of Komarov's accident were revealed soon after teaching future cosmonauts about potential perils of space flight.