The Tragic Story of a Russian Cosmonaut Who Was Sent into Space Knowing He Would Die

Vladimir Komarov, a cosmonaut, knew he was going to die when he left Earth for space on the Soyuz 1. His friend Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space, knew Komarov would too. But Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union, wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Communist Revolution with a spectacle. So Komarov boarded the Soyuz 1, and just like he predicted, ended up dying. The picture above is Komarov's remains.

The book Starman by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony examines the story of Gagarin and Komarov and how they couldn't stop the USSR from going forward with the mission. The NPR says:

Gagarin and some senior technicians had inspected the Soyuz 1 and had found 203 structural problems - serious problems that would make this machine dangerous to navigate in space. The mission, Gagarin suggested, should be postponed.

Gagarin wrote a 10-page memo and gave it to his best friend in the KGB, Venyamin Russayev, but nobody dared send it up the chain of command. Everyone who saw that memo, including Russayev, was demoted, fired or sent to diplomatic Siberia.

Komarov couldn't refuse the mission because the backup cosmonaut would have been Gagarin, his friend. So he went along with it and when things predictably failed—antennas didn't open, power was compromised, navigation was difficult—US intelligence picked up Komarov's cries of rage "cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship." Read the tragic story at NPR. Starman comes out next month. [NPR]