Disasters · Russia

Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov’s fatal crash after being sent to space in a dangerously shoddy vessel

April 24, 1967
Orenburg Oblast, Soviet Union
Cosmonaut Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov (Влади́мир Миха́йлович Комаро́в) is killed when returning to Earth during a space flight

Komarov knew the space capsule he was to use was unsafe, as did his friend, fellow cosmonaut, and first man in space Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin and a team of technicians found 203 structural problems with the vessel, and urged for the mission to be postponed. However, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev pressed for the mission — a spacewalk between two Soviet spacecrafts — to be completed on the 50th anniversary of the Communist revolution. Knowing he would probably not survive the mission, Komarov still elected to pilot the craft; if he did not, Gagarin would be sent as his replacement.

Though the launch was successful, failures began immediately — an antenna refused to extend, a solar panel didn’t deploy, High Frequency communication would not work. During a video call, premier Alexei Kosygin cried as he told Komarov he was a hero. Komarov and his wife discussed what to tell their children during the same call.

While the system failures were occurring, US forces stationed in Turkey listened in. They reportedly heard Komarov’s “cries of rage as he plunged to his death” and “cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.” Komarov’s parachute failed to deploy and he struck the Earth at full velocity. The resulting fire from the vessel’s fuel supply incinerated Komarov’s body.

Pictured here, several Soviet elites look upon Komarov’s withered and charred remains in a morgue. It is often speculated the remains are not biological but rather the burnt remnants of Komarov’s spacesuit, with most of Komarov’s body essentially vaporized in the crash. The remains were displayed in an open casket funeral, an arrangement Komarov requested before his flight.

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