Tag Archives: Cosmonaut

23–24 April 1967

Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov (1927–1967)
Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov (Alexander Loktionov/RIA Novosti)

23–24 April 1967: At 00:35:00 UTC, 23 April, Soyuz-1, the first manned flight of the Soyuz 7K-OK spacecraft, was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome Pad 1/5 (Gagarin’s Start). On this first test flight, only one person was aboard the craft, which had been designed to carry three cosmonauts. Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov was the pilot. He had previously flown Voskhod-1, a 24-hour mission, in 1964.

A Soyuz 7K-OK space craft assembly. (Space Rocket History)
A Soyuz 7K-OK space craft assembly. (Space Rocket History)

The mission plan called for a second spacecraft, Soyuz-2, to be launched on the 24th, with a three-man crew. A rendezvous in orbit would be made.

Soyuz-1 was not ready to be flown. More than 200 faults were known, but the pressures brought about by politics required that the launch proceed.

On reaching orbit, two solar arrays were to deploy to provide electrical power for the spacecraft’s batteries. One panel did not deploy and this severely limited the power available.

The Soyuz stabilization system relied on sensors which would detect certain stars to provide orientation, but the failed solar panel covered them. Within a few orbits the system failed completely. Komarov used the ship’s thrusters to manually control stability, but this was only marginally effective.

There were also communications difficulties. With electrical power diminishing and reaction fuel being spent, the main goals of the mission could no longer be achieved. After 13 orbits it was decided to abort the mission.

An illustration of Soyuz-1
An illustration of Soyuz-1

Komarov had to manually align the Soyuz-1 during the daylight phase of orbit 18. Gyroscopic stabilizers were supposed to maintain that alignment as the spacecraft passed into darkness. Komarov would once again align the craft when it came around into light, and hold that alignment through the reentry deceleration.

For some reason, the braking engine was 2 minutes, 23.5 seconds late in firing. The deceleration burn was planned for 2 minutes, 30 seconds, but an automatic system, recognizing that the gyro system was not holding the proper alignment, cut off the engine 4 seconds early. This meant that the Soyuz would travel farther down range than intended, and would not have slowed quite as much, although it was enough for re-entry.

Soyuz-1 impacted the Earth at 03:22:52 UTC, 1.9 miles (3.06 kilometers) to the west of Karabutak, Orenburg Oblast, at speeds estimated at from 30–40 meters per second (67–89 miles per hour) to as high as 640 kilometers per hour (398 miles per hour). It is believed that Vladimir Komarov died from injuries sustained at this time.

He was the first person to die during a space flight.

A rescue helicopter quickly located the Soyuz reentry module which was lying on its side in an open field with its parachute alongside. The rescuers reportedly saw the soft-landing rockets fire, which they should have done just before the module’s impact.

The module was on fire and by the time rescuers reached it, it was fully involved and molten metal was spreading on the ground. After expending their fire extinguishers, the rescuers tried to put of the fire by shoveling dirt on to it, but the the capsule completely collapsed.

Doctors on the scene pronounced Vladamir Komarov dead, with injuries to his skull, spinal cord, and numerous broken bones resulting from the impact. His body was completely burned. A postmortem examination at Moscow confirmed that the cosmonaut had been killed by the capsule’s impact.

Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, Cosmonaut.
Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, Cosmonaut.

Several theories have been published as explanation for the failure of the spacecraft’s parachute to safely slow Komarov’s descent, though with the craft completely destroyed by fire, it is unlikely that there could be any certainty. The official finding is that the drogue parachute did not apply enough force to pull the main parachute free. A backup parachute was deployed manually by Komarov but it fouled in the drogue ‘chute and did not open sufficiently to brake the craft.

Another theory is that a pressure sensor malfunctioned which prevented the automatic deployment of the main parachute. The drogue ‘chute should have been released at that time, but was not, which resulted in the reserve parachute fouling.

Third is that during an autoclaving operation the parachutes may have been contaminated with an adhesive substance.

And another story is this: During the design of Soyuz-1, the thickness of the heat shield was increased, and so the weight of the spacecraft went up. Engineers increased the size of the main parachute accordingly. But the compartment that it was to be stored in remained the same size. The fit was so tight that when the parachute was being installed, technicians had to hammer it into place with wooden mallets.

 Burning wreckage of Soyuz-1, 24 April 1967. (RosCosmos)
Burning wreckage of Soyuz-1, 24 April 1967. (Russian Federal Space Agency)

Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov was born at Moscow, Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic (RSFSR), 16 March 1927. His father was killed early in The Great Patriotic War (World War II). At the age of 15 years, Vladimir Mikhailovich entered the 1st Moscow Special Air Force School and graduated in 1945. He then went to Sasovskoye for initial pilot training, and then to the Borisoglebsk Air Force Pilot School. In 1946 he was transferred to the A.K. Serov Bataisk Military Aviation School. He received his pilot’s wings and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force, 10 December 1949.

Lieutenant Komarov served as a fighter pilot of the 383rd Fighter Aviation Regiment at Grozny. The regiment was transitioning from the Mikoyan-Guervich MiG-9 turbojet-powered fighter to the new swept-wing MiG-15. While there, he met his future wife, Valentina Yakovlevna Kiselyova, a recent graduate of the Grozny Teachers’ Training Institute. They were married in 1950. They had two children, Yevgeny and Irina.

In 1952, Senior Lieutenant Komarov was assigned as senior pilot of the 486th Fighter Aviation Regiment, flying the MiG-15 and MiG-17. In 1954 he applied to attend the N.E. Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy, from which he graduated in 1959. Promoted to Senior Lieutenant-Engineer, he was assigned as a test pilot at the Central Scientific Research Institute.

Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov
Colonel Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin and Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov at Star City, 1964. (Europress/AFP)

After promotion to captain-engineer, 3 September 1960, Komarov was selected for the first group of Soviet cosmonauts. He was older than most of the group, but was well liked and respected.

Colonel-Engineer Vladimir Mihailovich Komarov, Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR, was twice named Hero of the Soviet Union. He had also been awarded the Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Star, as well as several other decorations.

Following a state funeral, the cosmonaut’s ashes were interred in the Kremlin Wall at Red Square.

Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, Pilot-Cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union.
Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, Pilot-Cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union. “Whoever has flown once, whoever has piloted an airplane once, will never want to part with either an aircraft or the sky.”

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

12 April 1961, 06:06:59.7 UTC

Yuri Gagarin before launch. (RIA Novosti)

12 April 1961: At 06:06:59.7 UTC, Vostok-1 with Cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin was launched into Earth orbit from the Kosmodrom Baykonur, Kazakhistan. The spacecraft was a spherical Vostok 3KA-3 capsule which was carried to low Earth orbit by a three-stage Vostok 8K72K rocket.

Following first stage engine cut off, the first stage was jettisoned 1 minute, 59 seconds after liftoff. The payload fairing separated at 2 minutes, 34 seconds., and the second stage separation occurred at 4 minutes, 59 seconds. The Vostok spacecraft separated from the third stage at 06:18:28 UTC, 11 minutes 28 seconds after launch.

The Vostok was not capable of orbital maneuvering.

The Vostok spacecraft had an overall length of 5.040 meters (16 feet, 6.4 inches) and diameter of 2.500 meters ( 8 feet, 2.4 inches). The spherical crew/descent module had a diameter of 2.300 meters (7 feet, 6.6 inches). The gross mass was 4,730 kilograms (10,428 pounds).

Technicians working a Vostok spacecraft, circa 1961. (Science Photo Library)

The Vostok-K 8K72 was a modified R-7A Semyorka intercontinental ballistic missile. The R-7 rocket was designed by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, known as The Chief Designer.

The 8K72 version consisted of two core stages with four external boosters. The first stage and each of the boosters were powered by a four-nozzle RD-107 rocket engine burning kerosene and liquid oxygen. Total thrust was approximately 1,100,775 pounds of thrust (4,896.49 kilonewtons). The second stage used a RD-0105 engine, producing 11,015 pounds of thrust (48.997 kilonewtons).

Vostok I at Gagarin’s Start

The first two stages were 30.84 meters (101.18 feet) high and weighed 277,000 kilograms (610,680 pounds).

Gagarin made one orbit of the Earth, with an apogee of 315 kilometers and perigee of 169 kilometers. The orbital period was 89.34 minutes. The orbit was inclined 64.95° with reference to Earth’s axis.

While still in Earth orbit, Senior Lieutenant Gagarin received a field promotion to the rank of major.

Vostok I with Yuri Gagarin was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, 12 April 1961.
Vostok I, with Yuri Gagarin, launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome, 12 April 1961.

His reentry began over Africa, with the descent engine firing at 7:25:48.2 UTC. As the spacecraft was descending through 7,000 meters (20,966 feet), he ejected from the capsule and parachuted to the ground. The Vostok struck the ground at 07:48 UTC, and Gagarin landed approximately 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) away, near the village of Smelovka, Ternovsky District, Saratov Oblast, at 07:53 UTC.

Vostok I

Yuri Gagarin was the first human to travel in space. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) credited him with three World Records: Duration, 1 hour, 48 minutes.¹ Altitude in an Elliptical orbit, 327 kilometers (203 statute miles).² Greatest Mass Lifted to Altitude, 4,725 kilograms (10,417 pounds).³

Yuri Gagarin

Yuriy Alekseyevich Gagarin (Юрий Алексеевич Гагарин) was born at Klushino, a village in Smolensk Oblast, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, 9 March 1934. He was the third of four children of Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin, a carpenter, and Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina. The family, workers on a collective farm, were forced from their home when the village was occupied by German soldiers during the invasion of 1941.

In 1950, Gagarin became an apprentice at a steel foundry in Moscow. A school for workers allowed him to pursue an education. After a year, he was sent to a technical school at Saratov. It was while there that Gagarin first flew in an airplane, a Yakovlev Yak-18 trainer at the local aero club.

After graduating in 1955, Gagarin enlisted as a cadet at the military flight school at Orenburg. Gagarin graduated 6 November 1957 and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force.

Valentina Ivanova Gorycheva and Sergeant Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, circa 1957. (Rex features)

Just over a week earlier, 27 October 1957, Sergeant Gagarin married Valentina Ivanova Goryacheva, a medical technician at the air base. They would have two daughters.

Lieutenant Gagarin was assigned as an interceptor pilot at Nikel, an air base approximately 125 miles (201 kilometers) north of Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula. He flew the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter.

Cosmonaut trainees. Lieutenant Gagarin is seated in the front row, fourth from left. On his left is Sergei Korolev, The Chief Designer. (European Space Agency) ⁴

Lieutenant Gagarin was one of twenty pilots selected for the space program in 1960. This was further reduced to six cosmonaut candidates. Gagarin and Gherman Stepanovich Titov were the final two candidates for the first manned space launch, with Gagarin being chosen.

Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, Hero of the Soviet Union, photographed by Yousef Karsh.

Yuri Gagarin was killed in an airplane crash, 27 March 1968.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9326

² FAI Record File Number 9327

³ FAI Record File Number 9328

⁴ “Most of the cosmonaut group of 1960, with some of their instructors and wives. Front row, left to right: Pavel Popovich, Viktor Gorbatko, Yevgeni Khrunov, Yuri Gagarin, Chief Designer Sergei Korolev, his wife Nina Koroleva with Popovich’s daughter Natasha, Cosmonaut Training Centre Director Yevgeni Karpov, parachute trainer Nikolai Nikitin, and physician Yevgeni Fedorov. Second row, left to right: Alexei Leonov, Andrian Nikolayev, Mars Rafikov, Dmitri Zaikin, Boris Volynov, Gherman Titov, Grigori Nelyubov, Valeri Bykovsky, and Georgi Shonin. Back row, left to right: Valentin Filatyev, Ivan Anikeyev, and Pavel Belyayev.”

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

27 March 1968

Yuri Gagarin photographed shortly before his death in 1968. (RSC Energia)

27 March 1968: Colonel Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin, Pilot-Cosmonaut of the Soviet Union,  was killed in the crash of a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15UTI two-place trainer near the village of Novoselova, Vladamir Oblast, Russia.

Colonel Vladimir Sergeyevich Seregin, Hero of the Soviet Union.

Colonel Gagarin was on a routine training flight with an instructor, Colonel-Engineer Vladimir Sergeyevich Seregin. (Seregin was the commanding officer of the cosmonauts’ training regiment at the Cosmonaut Training Center.) The weather was poor, with rain, snow, wind and low clouds. His last reported altitude was 4,200 meters (13,780 feet).

A Sukhoi Su-15 on test flight inadvertently passed very close to the MiG at supersonic speed. The Sukhoi’s test had been planned for 10,000 meters (32,808 feet), but the pilot actually was flying much lower, passing through clouds, and the interceptor came within an estimated 15–20 meters (49–66 feet) of the trainer. Its wake vortices put Gagarin’s airplane into a spin from which he and Seregin were unable to recover. 55 seconds after Gagarin’s last radio transmission, the MiG-15 crashed. Both men were killed.

Colonel Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, Soviet Air Forces. (9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968)

Yuriy Alekseyevich Gagarin (Юрий Алексеевич Гагарин) was born at Klushino, a village in Smolensk Oblast, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, 9 March 1934. He was the third of four children of Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin and Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina. The family, workers on a collective farm, were displaced by the German invasion of 1941.

Gagarin was drafted by the Soviet Army in 1955 and was sent to flight school. Gagarin received a commission as a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force in 1957 and was promoted to senior lieutenant two years later.

Lieutenant Gagarin was one of nineteen pilots selected for the space program in 1960. This was further reduced to six cosmonaut candidates. Gagarin and Gherman Titov were the final Two candidates for the first manned space launch, with Gagarin being chosen.

Yuri Gagarin before launch. (RIA Novosti)

Yuri Gagarin was the first human to fly into space when he orbited Earth aboard Vostok I, 12 April 1961. The spacecraft was a spherical Vostok 3KA-3 capsule carried aloft by a Vostok-K rocket. Gagarin made one orbit of the Earth and began reentry over Africa. As the spacecraft was descending through 7,000 meters (20,966 feet), he ejected from the capsule and parachuted to the ground, landing near Engels, Saratov Oblast, at 0805 UTC.

Gagarin statue, London.
Gagarin statue, London.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

25 July 1984

Major Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savitskaya, Hero of the Soviet Union

25 July 1984: Cosmonaut Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savitskaya, on her second mission to the Salyut 7 space station, became the first woman to perform a space walk, when she spent 3 hours, 35 minutes outside the space station.

Major Savitskaya was the second woman to fly in space, after Cosmonaut Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova. Her first space flight was also to Salyut 7, in 1982. She was assigned as commander of an all-woman crew to the station, but that flight was cancelled. She has spent 19 days, 7 hours, 6 minutes in space.

Major Savitskaya is a retired flight engineer and test pilot who holds 18 world records in MiG aircraft. She was twice awarded Hero of the Soviet Union.

Married with one child, she retired in 1993. Major Savitskaya currently serves in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.

Cosmonaut Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savitskaya working outside the Salyut 7 space station during her 3 hour, 35 minute space walk, 25 July 1984. (RIA Novosti / Alamy)
Cosmonaut Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savitskaya working outside the Salyut 7 space station during her 3 hour, 35 minute space walk, 25 July 1984. (RIA Novosti / Alamy)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

17 July 1975

Apollo CSM-111 in orbit, as seen from Soyuz 19, 17 July 1975. (NASA )

At 12:20 UTC, 15 July 1975, Soyuz 19 launched from Gagarin’s Start at Baikonur Cosmosdrome, Kazakh SSR with Alexei Leonov and Valeri Kubasov, both on their second space flights. The launch vehicle was a Soyuz-U three-stage rocket.

At 19:50 UTC, 15 July 1975, Apollo ASTP lifted off from Launch Complex 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The crew was Thomas P. Stafford on his fourth space flight, Vance D. Brand on his first, and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton also on his first. The launch vehicle was a Saturn IB.

At 16:19:09 UTC, 17 July 1975, the two orbiting spacecraft rendezvoused in orbit and docked. Using a Docking Module airlock, the two crews each opened their spacecraft hatches and shook hands. The two ships remained joined for 44 hours, separating once for the Soyuz crew to take its turn to maneuver for docking with the Apollo Command and Service Module.

The Apollo command module from the mission is on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The descent module of Soyuz 19 is on display at the RKK Energiya museum in Korolyov, Moscow Oblast, Russia.

This was the final flight of the Apollo spacecraft.

Soyuz 19 in orbit, as seen from Apollo CSM-111, 17 July 1975. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather