The Tragic Death of the Man Who Fell From Space – Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov (1967)

The Mission

Leonid Brezhnev wanted something special to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution which was soon approaching. The Soviet Premier ordered a spectacle that would prove the Soviet Union’s superiority in the space race. Two spaceships would meet in mid-space and dock, then a cosmonaut from a first spacecraft, Soyuz-1 would spacewalk and change places with one of two cosmonauts in another spacecraft, Soyuz-2 and then return safely to earth.

Vladimir Komarov was appointed the cosmonaut of the Soyuz-1 which was scheduled to orbit the earth first and wait for Soyuz-2. His dear friend and Russian national hero, Yuri Gagarin was his backup cosmonaut.

Komarov Gagarin
Gagarin (left) and Komarov out hunting (source: RIA Novosti /Photo Researchers, Inc)

Brezhnev was not to be disappointed

Despite numerous failed safety tests and serious concerns expressed by several technicians and even Yuri Gagarin himself, regarding the design and manufacture of the Soyuz, the mission was not to be postponed, not even if it meant risking Komarov’s life. Brezhnev was not to be disappointed, at least not by anyone in the chain of command leading up to him. Komarov is said to have known about the serious flaws of the spaceship and the strong possibility of a fatal mission, but insisted on going through in order to spare the life of Gagarin who would have taken his place if he had denied.

Vladimir Komarov, like a meteor falling from the sky, crashed to the earth’s surface on April 24, 1967, becoming the first space fatality in history.

The mission was to be carried through. Before take off , sure of his imminent death, Komarov insisted that his funeral be open-casket for the government officials to see what they had done. Soon after reaching earth orbit, the spacecraft, riddled with problems, started to malfunction. The solar panels did not deploy and most of the navigational equipment failed. The Soyuz 1 and its lone passenger and commander, Vladimir Komarov, were left alone in the void.

The spacecraft that was supposed to meet with Komarov, the Soyuz-2 was immediately ordered by Russian officials to abort take off.

After five hours and 19 orbits, against all odds, the heroic cosmonaut successfully managed to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere manually, but the module was over-flawed and despite his courageous efforts, the module’s drogue and main braking parachute never deployed. Vladimir Komarov, like a meteor falling from the sky, crashed to the earth’s surface on April 24, 1967, becoming the first space fatality in history.

komarov's wife
Valentina Komarov, the widow of Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov during official funeral – April 26, 1967 (source: AFP/Getty Images)

The man who fell from space, Vladimir Komarov, was honored with his final request for an open casket funeral.

The remains of astronaut Vladimir Komarov
Vladimir Komarov’s remains in an open casket (source:RIA Novosti/Photo Researchers Inc.)

Ironically, one year after Komarov’s tragic death, Gagarin died when he crashed a fighter jet.

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