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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Man Who Fell From Space

When I was a child, I recall hearing the phrase "the man who fell from space", and wondered what it meant.

A few days ago, while perusing some strange photos on-line, I discovered what that meant.

It meant that photo up above... the charred remains of one Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut who was piloting the Soyuz 1 spacecraft back in 1967... whose spaceship literally fell to Earth after being in orbit, causing the heroic man to die horrifically when it smashed into the ground.

Look, I love talking about Japan in all its facets, so rest assured that there is a reference to Japan here, a tenuous one, but whatever... I'll talk about space any chance I get. The only two "A's" I got in university where for astronomy... weird considering that to this day I have never looked through a telescope.

Let's start at the beginning of the 1960s.

There is a Cold War going on between the United States of America and the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - 1922-1991... what everyone incorrectly called Russia, though that was indeed a part of it.)

After WWII, the communist USSR began a build-up of arms to establish itself as one half of the world's super powers. There was always a sense of one-up-manship when it came to the U.S. and the USSR.

That fact culminated in the Soviet Union (USSR) being the first to send up a living creature, Laika the dog, into space on November 3, 1957, and again with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin commanded his one-man Vostok spacecraft into outer space and completing an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961.

This embarrassment to American-perceived superiority caused then U.S. president John F. Kennedy to pledge that America would send a man to the moon and back by the end of the decade - a speech made at Rice University on September 12, 1962:

"... and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations, can expect to stay behind in this race for space."

That's a lot of 'expect'ations.

Well. One can't make a speech like that without someone else taking it as a challenge - and that's what the USSR did, creating the Soyuz Luna space craft missions, with the initial four designated for Earth orbit missions.

Now... now we have a real space race... one that with the exception of a war, would prove the intellectual superiority of one country over the other... I don't think that way, but you know at the time, patriots on both sides did.

The problem, for both sides, is that when your leader tells you that "we have to be first", shortcuts are made, and accidents occur. Neither would ever admit to such practices, but again... d'uh.

For the unofficial record, there are some who say that prior to Soviet spaceman Gagarin being the first into space, two other cosmonauts perished in their attempts - saying that the USSR suppressed this information to prevent any bad press to make them look weak in the eyes of the Americans.

Since this information was suppressed, and now available, there was evidence of one man dying during training on Earth, but that's about it.... I will note that this theory was put forth by Americans during the 1980s when the Cold War was beginning to get hot again.

Soyuz 1
Vladimir Komarov was born on March 16, 1927 in Moscow, and grew up to be a airplane test pilot, aerospace engineer and cosmonaut (the Soviet version of astronaut, in case you were wondering).

He helped do some space vehicle design, cosmonaut training and even public relations while at the Cosmonaut Training Centre, and was selected to command the Voskhod 1 multi-man flight.

The Voskhod 1 was the seventh-ever craft into space, and was the first to carry more than one person. As well, it was the first flight where there were no space suits, and set a manned spacecraft altitude record of 336 kilometers (209 miles) on October 12-13, 1964.

Apparently this three-man space flight was only supposed to carry two people, but the USSR wanted three, so... since the capsule could only hand two men in space suits or three without, they opted for the later - safety be damned, right?

As a successful USSR flight, and before the American manned Gemini space flight, this was an important bit of Soviet chest thumping over its Western rivals.

You can lick'em but you can't beat'em. U.S.S.R stamp commemorating Vladamir Komarov's leadership on the Voskhod I spaceflight on October 12 & 13, 1964.

Komarov was then chosen to lead the Soyuz 1, as part of the official program to reach the moon first by the USSR. Other cosmonauts chosen were Soviet Hero (and first man in space) Yuri Gagarin and Alexi Leonov.

On March 18, 1965 on the Voskhod 2 space mission, Leonov was the first human being to walk in space, doing so for 12-minutes.

On or about July 20, 1966, while performing some PR for the USSR in Japan, Komarov was officially reprimanded for his unauthorized disclosure that "the Soviet Union will, at the scheduled time, fly an automated spacecraft around the Moon and return it to (the) Earth, to be followed by a dog flight, then a manned circumlunar flight."

Yup... that's our Japanese connection... but it was a heads-up to the U.S. of A. that 'them Russkies' were close to attaining their goal of a flight to the moon.

On the ground, the Soyuz 1 mission was having issues. Komarov said the module hatch during Zero-G tests, was too small to allow the exit of a fully-suited spaceman (for safety)... how can you have accurate tests if they aren't based on reality?
A graphic representation of the ill-fated Soyuz I - a bug-like design that looks brilliant. I said "looks".
As well, the cosmonauts were constantly having their assignments revised causing tension, and... there was no response to a letter they had sent to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (USSR leader) Leonid Brezhnev about the problems and concerns with the design AND manufacture of the Soyuz 1.

The letter was from country hero Gagarin on the group's behalf. It basically said "how can you send a kid up in a crate like this?!"

By 1967, Komarov was chosen as the lead commander to fly the solo space mission, with Gagarin as his back-up should he not be able to fly.

According to a book, Komarov did not want to command this space ship with all its problems, but refused to step down because if he did, they would make his friend Gagarin command it, and he did not want Gagarin, a Soviet hero, to die in his place.

He actually said that he was going to die on this mission.
Let's skip ahead. The Soyuz 1 spacecraft blasts-off and achieves orbit.

Problem. The solar panels fail to open up fully, which means the spacecraft can not be fully powered, and it obscures some of the navigation equipment.

Said Komarov in space: "Conditions are poor. The cabin parameters are normal, but the left solar panel didn't deploy. The electrical bus is at only 13 to 14 amperes. The HF (high frequency transmitter) communications are not working. I cannot orient the spacecraft to the sun. I tried orienting the spacecraft manually using the DO-1 orientation engines, but the pressure remaining on the DO-1 has gone down to 180."

For five hours Komarov tried to orient the command module, but failed. Because the high frequency transmitter wasn't working (it maintains radio contact while the spacecraft is out of range of the UHF (ultra-high frequency) receivers back on Earth, Komarov was unable to establish ground contact with aid on his mission status. This was in orbits 13 through 15.

It was at this time, that the USSR began to realize that there was something wrong with their space craft design and scrubbed the planned ascension of Soyuz 2.

The Soyuz II was supposed to have carried cosmonauts (plural) up to the Soyuz 1 to perform aid to the crippled craft via an EVA (extra-vehicular activity)... a spacewalk... probably to get those pesky solar panels out to provide full power to the craft, and to allow for a better view of all navigation instruments (blocked by the panels).
A nice piece of space history - but unfortunately not the right type of patch required on Soyuz I.
Okay... so with no help forthcoming, Komarov was ordered to re-orient the craft using the ion system on orbits 15 to 17 - and when we say re-orient, we mean to maneuver the craft so that it can re-enter Earth properly.

But... the ion engine system failed.

So Komarov had to try and manually re-enter, and began prepping for it with orbit 19. Holy crap... I'm tensing up as I write this. Like when I watched the Apollo 13 movie when I already knew what had happened to it from watching the TV news back when I was a kid...

To manually perform re-entry back to Earth, Komarov needed to be able to see the sun and rely on something called the Vzor periscope. It was needed so he could reach the still-designated landing site in Orsk (still in Russia).

To get to the proper place and orientation to get to Orsk, he would need to perform a retro-fire to propel the craft, while on the night-side of Earth.

Problem. Night side of Earth. Sun to use the Vzor.

But he did it on the 19th orbit, re-entering Earth's atmosphere.

Problem. The effing parachute that would slow his decent did not deploy properly.

The Soyuz 1 and Komarov sped to Earth.

Knowing what was to befall him, Komarov spent his last remaining moments alive to spew vitriol: "cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship."

The USSR says that Komarov died when the Soyuz 1 splattered onto Earth's surface on April 24, 1967.

He was not the first man, therefore, to have died in space.

The Soyuz 1 crash site coordinates are 51.3615°N 59.5622°E, three kilometers (1.9 miles) west of Karabutak, Province of Orenburg in the Russian Federation, about 275 kilometers (171 miles) east-southeast of Orenburg. In a small park on the side of the road is a memorial monument: a black column with a bust of Komarov at the top.

The crash site of the Soyuz 1 spacecraft.

As a guy who watched the Eagle land on the Moon with astronaut John Glenn stepping down on the Moon on July 21, 1969, and laughing with glee as the Apollo-Soyuz space mission docked with each other in orbit above my head in July of 1975 - believing it meant a new era in relations between the Soviets and Americans (something I truly believe the space men really felt)...

To watching in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up on January 29, 1986 while I viewed it live on TV at a friends dorm common area at university...

To lying in bed crying as the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry on February 1, 2003... I would kill to be able to fly in space and look upon the rest of the world with disdain.

Hmm... probably good that I didn't. I seem to have some issues...

The point is, Komarov, despite his anger at having to die in a crate like Soyuz 1, and the other brave men, women and animals that gave their life in the pursuit of space and ego, "I would still go into space."

To the room and no one in particular, I actually said that almost immediately after the Challenger disaster...

The only thing I can't understand about this Kevin Spacey in space blog, is why the fug the Soviets had an open-casket funeral for Komarov.

They really did. The proof is in the top-most photo.

The U.S.S.R never made it to the Moon.

On July 3, 1969, on the very eve of the Apollo-11 Moon landing, Soviet engineers made another secret attempt to fly the giant N1 (vehicle No. 5L) rocket. However, the mission ended just seconds after liftoff with a colossal explosion

With the explosion of that unmanned rocket, the USSR was already well behind the successes of the Americans, and effectively knocked them out of race to the Moon - just days before American astronauts walked on the lunar surface.

To this date, only six Apollo missions (XI, XII, XIV, XV, XVI and XVII) of the United States and its NASA division, have ever landed men on the moon.

That's a total of 12 astronauts walking on the surface of the moon. Of the 21 Apollo astronauts (including the ill-fated Apollo XIII - also an excellent movie!) three of them flew to the moon twice, but no one has ever walked upon it more than once.

Jim Lovell, John Young and Eugene Cernan are the only three people to have flown to the Moon twice: Apollo X and XVI - Young; and X and XVII - Cernan. Apollo X only flew to the Moon's orbit and was never projected to land upon its surface.

Young and Cernan each set foot on it during their respective second lunar missions of Apollo XVI and Apollo XVII, respectively, while Lovell is the only person to have flown to the Moon twice without landing - Apollo VII and XIII.

We (human beings) last set foot on an alien surface (Luna, our moon) on December 14, 1972... over 43 years ago.

What's really sad, is that of those 12 men who landed on the moon - and seven are still alive - the youngest of the remaining moon walkers is Harrison Schmitt at 80-years-of-age. He is also the last man to have walked on the moon.

Andrew Joseph

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