Forty Years Ago, A Cosmonaut Experienced What Can Only Be Described as 'Hell'S

We cover a lot of cool NASA space shuttle stuff here at Gizmodo, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention an important milestone for that other vital spacecraft, out of Russia, the Soyuz.

That milestone happened on Friday, when the Soyuz program celebrated the 40th anniversary of an historic event: The first orbital docking between two craft where human beings left Earth in one craft, and returned in another.

To say the event went smoothly would be, well, a total frickin' lie, as cosmonaut Boris Volynov would experience one of space flight's most harrowing reentries on this most historic trip.

After his craft, the Soyuz 5, failed to separate from its service module, it began the descent facing the wrong way. As the heat shield got an unparalleled view of the cosmos, the flimsy entry hatch, with its one-inch of insulation and a window, received the brunt of reentry. Things began to melt and stink and smoke, and the hatch itself bulged inwards from the stress of reentry. If the craft had not miraculously righted itself, poor Volynov would have cooked to death in temperatures reaching 5,000 degrees.

But that wasn't the end—the parachute still had to partially fail, and there was the missed landing spot to worry about too. The former only resulted in broken teeth and a mouthful of blood (phew!). The latter almost killed him for a third time in 30 minutes, as the Ural Mountains were -40 degrees when he landed there, some 2,000 kilometers short of the LZ.

Lucky for Volynov, some nearby peasants kept him warm in their hut until help arrived. As a token of their appreciation, the Soviet government then forbade him from talking about the incident because of the ongoing space race with the U.S. News of the event only surfaced relatively recently in 1997.

Seven years after the "landing," Volynov was the commander of the Soyuz 21 mission, which saw him back in orbit aboard the Salyut space station. And to think, I actually had the audacity to complain about my snowy ride to work the other day. [James O Berg via Wired]