The Cosmonaut
Who Fell to Earth

‘The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won’t work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact.
As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, “cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.”‘
This is a heart-tugging excerpt of “Starman,” an upcoming book about a much rumored, but apparently only now documented, tragic event of the space race era, written by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony.
In April of 1967, Komarov took off to an orbital flight in what was supposed to be part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Communist Revolution: a spectacular hookup of two Soviet spacecrafts in space. According to the authors, Komarov’s best friend Yuri Gagarin, Russian hero and first man to fly to space, was his replacement for the flight. Both men were aware of the capsule’s dangerous limitations but then USSR dictator Leonid Brezhnev wanted it to make it happen at any cost.
“Starman” focus on the friendship and contrasting fates of both men, and Komarov’s ultimate sacrifice to save his buddy from a destiny no one would want for their worst enemy. The authors based the account on interviews with a former KGB official, which are naturally bound to be challenged in the years ahead as new research will certainly come to light.
Way before Komarov’s flight became a one-way trip, the launch of the other spacecraft that was supposed to rendezvous with his in space, had already been skipped.
Listening stations of the U.S.’s own space program (which also doubled, and it still does today, as a part of the American defense strategy) picked up Komarov’s haunting final exchange with mission control. The recording of the dramatic dialog is now widely available.
NASA, by the way, had its own share of tragic setbacks and secrets, many still not fully disclosed to the general public. But Doran and Bizony’s book may be a stepping stone into a better understanding of the Soviet Union’s ultra-classified space program.
If for anything else, at least to show the commitment and humanity of the protagonists of a bygone and almost forgotten dispute for an illusory supremacy of the outer skies. Over 40 years after, public interest may have waned but not the scientific legacy and courage of those who, by giving their own lives to their countries, wound up benefiting us all.

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