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.
[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Life and Career of Vladimir Komaro
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.
During his selection process, he was one of the most highly qualified individuals, immediately being put into the USSR Group Air Force No. 1 Cosmonaut squadron.
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.
Komarov was selected as the commander of the of the first multi-man space flight 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, he 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.
The fallen astronaut sculpture left on the moon [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]
While training, Vladimir 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 his voyage on the Soyuz 1 would end in his death.
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, he insisted that his funeral have an open casket so the engineers and Soviet leadership could see what they had done to him.
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. Kamarov 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.
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.
A Soyuz Capsule Similar to Komarov's [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]
Upon re-entry, the module's braking parachute failed to deploy correctly. The capsule thus maintained too high of a speed upon landing and crashed into the Earth, killing Komarov.
Famously, according to NPR, as 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."