Tag Archives: Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov

23–24 April 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. “Whoever has flown once, whoever has piloted an airplane once, will never want to part with either an aircraft or the sky.”

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

12–13 October 1964

Voskhod-1 lifts of from Launch Compexx 1 at Baikonur Cosmodrome, “Gagarin’s Start,” 07:30:01 UTC, 12 October 1964.

At 07:30:01 UTC, 12 October 1964, Voskhod-1 (Восход-1) is launched from Gagarin’s Start at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. On board the spacecraft are the command pilot, Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, with Konstantin Petrovich Feoktisov, an engineer, and Boris Borisovich Yegorov, a medical doctor.

The purpose of the mission was to investigate technical and physiological research.

Voskhod-1 flight crew. Left to right, Konstantin Petrovich Feoktisov, Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, and Boris Borisovich Yegorov. (spacefacts.de)

After 16 orbits, Voskhod-1 returned to Earth at 07:48:03, 13 October 1964, landing approximately 65 miles (105 kilometers) southwest of Petropavl, capital of the North Kazakhstan Region, at N. 54° 02′ 00″, E. 68° 08′ 00″. Slowed by parachutes, the spacecraft’s landing was cushioned by solid rocket engines.

This was the first spaceflight to carry more than one human passenger.

Voskhod-1 was a specially modified Voskhod 3KV spacecraft. Designed to carry two cosmonauts, it was modified to carry three for this flight. As a result, there was no room for the cosmonauts to wear spacesuits. The spacecraft was 5.040 meters (16 feet, 6.4 inches) long, 2.500 meters (8 feet, 0.2 inches) in diameter, and had a mass of 5,320 kilograms (11,728.6 pounds).

The Voskhod-1 spacecraft is at the RRK Energia Museum, Korolev, Russia.

Diagram of Voskhod 3KA spacecraft. (RKK Energia/Drew ExMachina)

Voskhod-1 was launched by a Voskhod 11A57, number R15000-04. This was a two-stage liquid-fueled rocket with four “strap-on” boosters. The 11A57 was 30.84 meters (101 feet, 2.2 inches) tall with a diameter of 2.99 meters (9 feet, 9.7 inches), and had a gross mass of 298,400 kilograms (657,859 pounds). The first stage was powered by one RD-108-8D75K engine, producing 941.000 kilonewtons (211,545 pounds) of thrust, burning kerosene and liquid oxygen. It burned for 5 minutes, 1 second. The four RD-107-8D74K boosters each produced 995.300 kilonewtons (223,752 pounds) of thrust with kerosene and liquid oxygen. They burned for 1 minute, 59 seconds and were jettisoned. The second stage was powered by a single RD-108 engine, producing 294.000 kilonewtons (66,094 pounds) of thrust. It also burned kerosene and liquid oxygen. Its burn time was 4 minutes.

During this flight, the crew set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI world records: maximum altitude in orbit, 408 kilometers (253.5 miles);¹ greatest mass to altitude, 5320 kilograms (11,728.6 pounds);² and duration, 24 hours, 17 minutes, 3 seconds.³

The Voskhod-1 spacecraft is at the RRK Energia Museum, Korolev, Russia.

Voskhod-1 capsule on display at the Science Museum, London. Image cropped. (Andrew Gray/Wikipedia)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9354,

² FAI Record File Number 9355

³ FAI Record File Number 9356

© 2023 Bryan R. Swopes