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The Man Who Fell from Space: Vladimir Komarov

by Drishti Ranjan

The Man Who Fell from Space: Vladimir Komarov

April 1, 2021

We all remember the space race, don’t we? The way the cold adversaries competed in a race to the moon? Most of us also remember the launch of Sputnik I which marked the beginning of it all, but how many of us know about Vladimir Komarov, the man who sacrificed his life so that his country could romp to victory? This is his story.

Space Race: The Start of It All

The most unique aspect of the cold war between the power blocks USA and the Soviet Union was the fact that it was not limited to land. The quest that started in 1955, was sparked by America’s announcement that it was planning to launch an artificial satellite, yet was won by the Soviets after they successfully launched Sputnik I into orbit.

Both blocks had their shares of wins and losses; there was Sputnik I for the Soviets, then there was the first man who walked on the surface of the moon by America. However, this ordeal did come to a close after both the rivals collaborated on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. However, what made these rivals come together and mark the end of the blood-thirsty quest to conquer the outer space?

astronaut aldrin and american flag on the moon 2

Tragic Twists

In the race to mark what was to be a giant leap for the whole of humanity, both sides in haste sacrificed the most intrinsic thing that this ordeal was supposed to be about: Humans. America lost at the base when Apollo 1 caught fire during one of its launch rehearsal tests and this lead to the death of three highly trained crew members – Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee.

What was seen as a failure on behalf of the American space crew was still a mini version of the disaster that lay ahead of their Soviet counterpart.

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Rigged Disaster?

The Space race witnessed haste in the way space missions were being dealt with. This entailed that neither of the countries hesitated from compromising on some standards so as to get ahead of the other. But this shortcut approach is what martyred the first Soviet Space hero.

Vladimir Komarov was a Soviet test pilot, aerospace engineer, and cosmonaut. He commanded the first spaceflight to carry more than one crew member and subsequently was selected to be the sole pilot of Soyuz 1 in its first crewed test flight, which also made him the first Soviet cosmonaut to have flown in space twice.

Komarov was initially assigned to the Soyuz program along with Alexei Leonov and Yuri Gagarin. But their selection was followed by a series of strange events. One month after this, Komarov started having clashes with other engineers over ongoing design issues with the Soyuz which related to the zero-G tests demonstrating that the Soyuz module hatch was too small to allow the safe exit of a fully suited cosmonaut. Following these clashes, Komarov and his crewmates started getting increasingly anxious about the way in which their concerns were being addressed. The launch date was approaching, yet there was a lack of response to their concerns regarding the design and manufacture of the spacecraft.

When the date of the test flight came near, Komarov was selected to command and Yuri Gagarin was kept as his backup cosmonaut. It was common knowledge, even to the cosmonauts, that there were safety hazards with the spacecraft, but Komarov knew that in case he backed out, the life of his fellow crewmate (Yuri) would be sacrificed.  In order to protect Yuri, Komarov decided to go ahead with the plan, and before his flight, insisted that his funeral should be open-casket so that the Soviet leadership could see what they had done.

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Both cosmonauts were working twelve to fourteen hours per day, but on orbital insertion, the solar panels failed to fully deploy and in turn, prevented the spacecraft from getting fully powered which further obscured the navigation equipment. The conditions started to deteriorate. Komarov tried to orient the craft but failed. The craft started emitting incorrect and unreliable information which made it clear that the world was awaiting a disaster. Komarov was ordered to then re-orient, and use the ion flow sensors on orbits 15-16; which failed. This left Komarov with no time to attempt a manual re-entry until orbit 19. This helped him in successfully re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, but couldn’t help him further. The module’s drogue and the main braking parachute failed to deploy, which eventually seemed like Komarov crashed from space, and onto his death.

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