When people think about astronauts, they are quickly reminded of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, two men who crewed the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

They walked on the lunar surface, taking one small step for man, one giant leap for humanity, and planted the American flag.

However, they were not the first men in space. That honor lies not with an astronaut but with a Cosmonaut, which is the same thing, except Russian.

The 1960s were arguably the height of the Cold War, the quiet struggle of America and Russia to assert themselves as the dominant power following World War II, and nothing encapsulated that soft power struggle more than the space race where either country pushed the limits to put men into the final frontier where no man had ever gone.

America won out by putting men on the moon, but they couldn’t have done it without Russia’s help. Russia put its man in space first.

They also lost their man in a hideous technical failure, the first death in space, which allowed the Americans to figure out the landing half of the space-race equation so their astronauts could be the first men into space to come back alive.

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10 /10 Cosmonaut Candidate

Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov was Russia’s answer to the space race. He was one of many aerospace engineers, test pilots, and one of the first true cosmonauts in history.

He was born in Moscow in 1927 and grew up in a relatively poor, essential labor family. But he had dreams of his own and the skills to accomplish them.

His talents with math and deep interest in aeronautics led him to make a working propeller in his spare time in the hopes of flying.

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9 /10 War Scholar

Komarov spent his later schooling in the 1st Moscow Special Air Force School to become a pilot of some kind. Flying was all he wanted to do until World War II broke out.

Then he wanted to be a particular kind of pilot. Throughout the war, the school was moved into Siberia as Moscow was dangerously close to the progressively pushing front lines.

Komarov’s father died due to “war activities,” He was ready to join the fight, but the fighting ended before he graduated. He continued his training until he was a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force.

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8 /10 Air Force Group One

Komarov continued his air force career and became a fighter plane pilot in the 383rd Regiment based in Grozny.

During his military career, he married a woman named Valentina Kiselyova in 1950, and they had a daughter together.

He rose to senior lieutenant in 1952 and then Chief Pilot of the 468th Fighter Aviation Regiment until 1954.

He enrolled as an engineer fully until he became a test pilot at the Central Scientific Research Institute at Chaklovsky. Then in 1959, he was invited to become a cosmonaut candidate with 3,000 other pilots.

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7 /10 Unqualified

At first, Komarov failed out. He didn’t meet the age, height, or weight requirements – with weight being the most critical factor.

Nevertheless, he remained attached as an engineer and flight test engineer for new aircraft. He continued to train himself with other cosmonaut hopefuls to stay on the shortlist of possible replacements.

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6 /10 The Professor

Throughout the early 1960s, Komarov made a nickname of himself of “The Professor” for being far more knowledgeable than the other younger recruits and helped them with their studies and academics in the meantime.

He started that period with a minor operation which made his candidacy even more unsure and unclear for a while as he recovered until he was keyed to replace another cosmonaut who failed during G-force simulations.


5 /10 The Dual Voshkods

In 1964, the candidate program had carved out all of its members and was left with few options to man the upcoming space missions.

The State Commission, who was in control of everything, had two choices to pick from, and Komarov wasn’t among them.

They picked him anyway since he helped design the shuttles they would be launching, despite his lacking physical performance.

He was the most experienced member of the crew in terms of training. He was in space for just over 24 hours, long enough to view the Aurora Borealis and make a radio call to Earth in time for the Tokyo Olympics.

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4 /10 Soyuz 1

He’s far more famous, and the last flight was the Soyuz program with Yuri Gagarin and Alexei Leonov. However, this wasn’t without contention.

He declared the Soviet Union’s intent to fly their craft around the moon too early for the State to approve and argued over the craft’s design with the engineers, all while being led around by the State on various conflicting tasks.

It was apparent the mission was being rushed, and planning was not done efficiently.

Nevertheless, Komarov was the commander of the one-person shuttle with Yuri as his backup. The backup never arrived.


3 /10 Mission Failed

First, the solar wing failed to deploy. This depowered the ship while it was still in space. This caused various shortages, including HF communications.

He couldn’t orient the ship toward the sun for more power and failed to do so for several hours.

He lost orbit and was ordered to re-orient using the ion flow as they could not, and would not, launch the Soyuz 2 to intercept him. That failed as well.

He set up a re-entry path and retro-fired blindly at the night side of Earth. Finally, the parachute failed to deploy, and Komarov disintegrated on the burn-up journey.

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2 /10 Soviet Hero

Komarov died before the catastrophic impact, which left his body in nondescript, burnt chunks.

His remains were gathered and cremated, and his fellow cosmonauts blamed the administration’s shortcuts and failures to listen to the concerns of the tested, knowledgeable pilots and engineers.

He was celebrated as a hero of aeronautics and honored even by his American rivals.

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1 /10 Fallen Astronaut

His legacy persisted after his death. He was given various Soviet honors, such as the Order of Lenin and the Red Star.

He was also honored by Neil Armstrong, whose final mission on the moon was to place a small package commemorating the cosmonauts who came before him, added to which was the small metal sculpture Fallen Astronaut along with a plaque of the names of the forerunners whose failures helped create one of humanity’s greatest successes. 

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