March 20, 2011

"If I don't make this flight, they'll send the backup pilot instead... That's Yura" — Yuri Gagarin — "and he'll die instead of me. We've got to take care of him."

It was 1967, and Vladimir Komarov knew — a month in advance — that he would almost surely die in the showy spaceship link-up Leonid Brezhnev had planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Communist revolution.

Gagarin had written a memo explaining the 203 serious structural problems with the spacecraft, but there was an even worse structural problem with the Soviet government: "Everyone who saw that memo... was demoted, fired or sent to diplomatic Siberia." The memo couldn't go up the chain of command.

Don't click on the link unless you want to see a photo of the open casket of Vladimir Komarov.

59 comments:

Paul Zrimsek said...

Your warning at the end needs to be cranked up a notch or two. To, say, "Don't click on the link unless you want to spend the next three days attacking your eyeballs with a scrub brush and a can of Old Dutch."

jeff said...

Saw this yesterday. Not all that surprising of a story other than the story actually getting out.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

Good example of how top-down command and control operates.

Doesn't matter if something doesn't actually work; what matters are appearances and the intentions of those in a position to gain politically.

The poor bastard knew he was going to die and could do little about it. Pretty much the hallmark of communism.

chuckR said...

The worst we deal with is mandated low flow toilets, CF bulbs and dish/laundry detergents that have no cleaning power. At least none of those are life threatening.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

@chuckR

"The worst we deal with is mandated low flow toilets, CF bulbs and dish/laundry detergents that have no cleaning power. At least none of those are life threatening."

Remind me that I can go ahead and begin to point out the stupidity of our legislators regarding CFL's, toilets and the like AFTER they start ordering citizens into defective spacecraft for testing.

Honestly, if you are willing to accept these 'non life-threatening' interventions, you are exactly the kind of citizen that the statist likes.

There is no equivalency between being sent on a suicide mission and using a CFL. Agreed?

Expat(ish) said...

My wife was trying to get her head around Japan's nuke issue by doing a compare/contrast with 3MI and Cherny.

I told her that ever good fact had to be divided by 1000 and ever bad fact multiplied by the same number. "52 residents dead" was more like 50K. "Cuba trains 1,000 doctors/quareter" is 1 doctor/quarter.

All governments lie, Commies just think big.

-XC

PS - Buzz Aldrin: It's terrifying to sit there and think that this was all built by the lowest bidder.

Robin said...

In the article it says that all that was recovered of Komarov was a chipped heel bone.

Pogo said...

"Buzz Aldrin: It's terrifying to sit there and think that this was all built by the lowest bidder."

What's scarier is that the Soviet spacecraft was likely built by their best people, putting out the kind of shoddy shit that is the hallmark of socialist manufacturing (i.e. only one builder, no bidding allowed).

Just imagine how wonderful will be US National Healthcare.

For an early taste, try the wonders of Cuban health care

John Burgess said...

Expat-ish: XKCD has already done the comparison in an excellent chart.

Ram said...

In the comments at the NPR link there are comparisons to the Challenger O-rings disaster. The comparison at first made me really angry.

But think a bit. There were non-evil folks who knew that the O-rings were unsafe when the outside temperature was low. It was pretty clear what would happen if/when the O-rings failed (along with 1000's of other parts). Some stuff just can't be made to fail safely.

Was the incompetence of the O-rings just a difference of degree from this story? Or does the monstrous lack of quality control in the old Soviet system represent a difference of kind?

edutcher said...

I remember being told in '62 that there were a few space capsules in orbit the Russkies weren't able to get down before Gagarin (related to Lady Gaga?) lucked out.

Of course, this was how Uncle Joe won his slice of the Big One.

(supposedly, every Kraut that bought it on the Eastern Front took three Commies with him)

PatCA said...

Someone should make a movie about this story, to show that central planning by the government is a suicide mission.

Then we should make Obama watch it every day.

Kevin said...

However, to be fair to the Russians, Komarov was the last person they lost in space - forty-four years ago. Looks like they learned their lesson.

Compare that to our safety record...

Pogo said...

"o be fair to the Russians, Komarov was the last person they lost in space - forty-four years ago"

And how would we know that was true?
From the Soviets?

Everything they ever wrote was a lie, including the words and and the.

Kevin said...

And how would we know that was true?
From the Soviets?


If the Soviets had lost more people in space, we'd know about it by now. Spaceflight was a very high-profile operation in the Soviet Union and in Russia today. And we do know today that the Soyuz is a very reliable spacecraft.

John said...

PatCA said...

Someone should make a movie about this story, to show that central planning by the government is a suicide mission.

Someone did. It is being released on April 15.

Trailer here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W07bFa4TzM

John Henry

Belkys said...

If the Soviets had lost more people in space, we'd know about it by now.
No we dont , will Durante was there while eight million people were killed and he saw no evil, hear no evil , sniff no evil. And he got a pulitzer.
And there were more deaths. research

AprilApple said...

The commies were very arrogant. It's all about the show, not the substance. The commies remind me of modern proggies.

AJ Lynch said...

Kevin:

I think the Soviets rarely announced a space mission or its details until it had returned safely and successfully.

IOW what Pogo said.

Maguro said...

Hmmm...I wonder who made the call for an open casket funeral? Perhaps his family insisted as a form of protest? It certainly didn't cast the Russian space program in a favorable light.

Kevin said...

I think the Soviets rarely announced a space mission or its details until it had returned safely and successfully.

That was certainly true then - that wouldn't be true now. There is tremendous interest in Russia today in Soviet history, particularly the less savory aspects of it. If the Soviets lost other people in space, a lot of people would have known about it, and would be willing to talk about it now.

There are many reasons to bash the USSR, but the safety record of their space program isn't one of them.

Pogo said...

"if the Soviets lost other people in space, a lot of people would have known about it, and would be willing to talk about it now."

You base this on what, the trickle of information like this story since the fall of the USSR in 1989?

I suspect you are probably correct, but my point is that there is little to back your assertion because the communist regimes are always about The Big Lie, and most of what we have are scattered anecdotes and the records made by their enemies, the USA, because their own records are lies peppered with small truths.

The Drill SGT said...

Belkys said...
If the Soviets had lost more people in space, we'd know about it by now.
No we dont


NSA knows. We listen to every missile launched by anybody. Even if we could not decrypt the traffic in real time, the types of transmissions associated with human cargo are distinct.

Jim Gust said...

Do you really believe that the plane crash that killed Gagarin was an accident? Seems most unlikely, especially after he threw that drink into Brezhnev's face.

vbspurs said...

Jesus Christ, what a ghastly photo of Komarov's remains. Poor man. And is it me, or are his arm stumps stretched out as if imploring God to die already...

Well, since it's that kind of thread, don't click on this if are tenderhearted.

Audio from Apollo 1, as the pure-oxygen capsule blew up in a ball of flame, killing Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee

The sheer TERROR in Chaffee's last transmission sends chills up the spine. RIP astro/cosmonauts.

Cheers,
Victoria

enicar333 said...

There is a hidden side to the Soviet Space program. The first man in space was Vladimir llyushin. Another Cosmonaut died in space on Feb 2, 1961, and in another flight the first woman in space also died. Read the stories, hear the actual recordings of the heartbeats, breathing and words of the dying Cosmonauts.
http://www.lostcosmonauts.com/default.htm

vbspurs said...

Another Cosmonaut died in space on Feb 2, 1961, and in another flight the first woman in space also died.

Valentina Tereshkova died??? Despite being an avowed, unrepentant Commie to this day, is one of my heroines.

I thought she was alive and well and giving lectures.

Check out this sweet pic of Yuri Gagarin tugging on Valentina's earlobe. Awww.

Cedarford said...

Kevin - "There are many reasons to bash the USSR, but the safety record of their space program isn't one of them."

Agree. There are many things the Soviets did very well. Never underestimate a foe...arrogance costs jobs to China, lives to Iraqi & Talibani Islamoids.

For the last 40 years, the American safety record is worse than the Soviet/Russians.
And the Russians/Soviets have worked harder on addressing the safety and technological barriers to, and economic problems of, manned space flight in those last 40 - than the Americans have.

vbspurs said...

FWIW, one NPR commenter said these stories are stuff and nonsense:

Chuck Longton (Chuck2200) wrote:

I read the article with interest - at forst - and then anger as I got into it. I penned a response but before posting it, sinse I am a member of the NASASPACEFLIGHT.COM forum, where NASA experts hang out and talk, I went there to see if anyone else had noticed this article. They had. One poster, said everything I had put in my reply, only far better than I did so I will re-post his words here. On NSF his handle is rdale. He said (and I totally agree):
"Kristen Bachelor (SpaceHistorian) wrote:
I'm really disappointed to see such a misleading story on the highly respected NPR site. Firstly, this is not a "new" book - it was published in 1998, and is being republished for the anniversary with a new afterword. All of the stories noted were in the original, and were in turn published in other books decades earlier.

Plus, as others such as respected historians Oberg and Siddiqi point out in their comments, these stories have been debunked. Most recently, Colin Burgess wrote a careful examination of the stories (and the fact-based truth of what happened) in his excellent space history book "In the Shadow of the Moon," published in 2007."

enicar333 said...

vbspurs - You need to go to the link. The woman is not named. Read the stories, you can listen to her final transmission, read the transcript.

Van Halen said...

Where are the antiwar protests now?
Where is Code Pink now?
Where are Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon and the Dixie Chicks now?
Where is Not In Our Name now?
What happened to No Blood For Oil?
Why did Obama send us to war #3 and run off to Brazil to award Soros-dominated Petrobas an oil rig contract that he won't let the US have?
How much is this latest war costing us?
What exactly do we intend to do there?
What is our exit strategy?
Why is Obama ignoring the economy, Japan, and the rest of the Middle East?
Why don't the Arab League pony up money, ships and troops?

Van Halen said...

When is the last time we had a President who had us in THREE wars at once?

DrSquid said...

Definitely off topic, but this is the kind of report NPR does very well. No partisanship, non-ideological--they should definitely strike out on their own, without gov't support.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

@Van Halen

The answer is that Bush was deposed constitutionally and is no longer in power. No need for those questions anymore; for, The One is among us.

'We are the Ones we have been waiting for'.

The Drill SGT said...

The sheer TERROR in Chaffee's last transmission sends chills up the spine. RIP astro/cosmonauts.

Cheers,
Victoria


For those that didn't listen to the Apollo 1 tape.

- fire starts
- 8 seconds later, the first crew notice of fiire
- at 18 seconds (total) the last scream
- 320 seconds after fore startwas the estimated time to get the hatch open

not a good way to go

BTW: This is an example of why the Tillman coverup happened.

Deaths in combat are often horrific. Commanders since the beginning of warfare have been telling two small white lies to families when asked. Because the truth never helps.

1. It was quick
2. he didnt feel a thing

even when they saw the plane on fire augaring in from 10,000 feet listening to the screams.

repeat after me: "it was quick, he didn't feel a thing"

from now on, apparently, we're going to prosecute those white lies.

It's not going to help families like the Tillman's

David said...

Lest we think that it's a Russian issue, go through Victoria's link to the horrible audio of the Apollo 1 fire.

Ed White (panicked): "We are burning up."

The deaths of White, Grissom and Chaffee were directly caused by pressure to speed the Apollo program, which resulted in many design flaws, including an oxygenated capsule. The remains of these three men reflected the same agonies as the poor cosmonaut in that coffin.

Fear of retribution prevents uncomfortable truths from being communicated in any power conscious bureaucracy. This is as true in our semi democratic society as it was in communist Soviet Union.

Consider this quite from the linked NPR article: The question was: Who would tell Brezhnev? 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.

The greatest uncomfortable truth in our nation now is how close we may be to financial disaster. Do you think that those in the government funded-Democratic Party-Congressional-government employee axis have any less risk in pressing the truly powerful to actually do something?

Fortunately we have a system where the minority has a voice, even if they lack power to implement it. Look no further than Madison to see what happens when this former minority takes power and tries to use it to create fiscal sense.

This battle is just beginning.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

The Russian cosmonaut is no more or less dead than any of the American astronauts pointed out by some commenters that were only mentioned at the end of the story.

The last line of the story is 'Death was not unexpected'.

The difference, I believe, was that American astronauts had a greater expectation of success than their russian counterparts.

American astronauts can scrub a mission; doesn't sound like the russian had that choice. Just ask Brezhnev.

David said...

I wonder who made the call for an open casket funeral? Perhaps his family insisted as a form of protest?

Someone with courage.

Family perhaps, or family along with his fellow cosmonauts. They were brave men.

vbspurs said...

Dr Squid wrote:

Definitely off topic, but this is the kind of report NPR does very well. No partisanship, non-ideological--they should definitely strike out on their own, without gov't support.

I posted a quote from one of the comments in the NPR article, which disappeared. I think that's Ann's way of saying, don't quote it.

But basically, Doc, it said that the NPR article was wrong. Cited NASA types who contradicted it, and mentioned two books too.

vbspurs said...

The Drill Sgt wrote:

even when they saw the plane on fire augaring in from 10,000 feet listening to the screams.

repeat after me: "it was quick, he didn't feel a thing"


Yes... :(

The commanding officers had to write home to the surviving family members. At least, that was/is the case in the British Army (my grandfather did so).

So not only did the CO have to lie to these poor folks, but he was forced to relive these incidents time-and-again, each time it happened.

Leland said...

What's really interesting was how Komarov was almost successful in coming home. Despite losing primary guidance, primary communication, and primary flight control; he still managed to get the Soyuz in a survivable re-entry trajectory. That's a lot of failures to overcome, but one failure he couldn't resolve.

Due to all the problems, ground controllers made a good decision. They aborted the second launch. The 2nd launch was to be the rendezvous vehicle. It really didn't matter if it's orbital systems had succeeded with Komarov failed. Both craft had the same defect.

A resin used on the parachute system wasn't designed for the heat loads. The resin melted, flowed, and then cooled over the parachute until the chutes became a gooey tangled mess. So once Komarov managed to align his vehicle and survive entry heating; he released his parachutes. They failed, and he hit the ground travelling about 100mph (terminal velocity for the Soyuz). 100mph may have been survival, but the impact created a fire that consumed the vehicle.

shiloh said...

Agree. There are many things the Soviets did very well.

It was "reported" the U.S. space program was trying to invent/create a pen which would work in "0" gravity and supposedly spent as much as $10 million on the project ...

Whereas the Russians just used a pencil lol

Talk about your fraud, waste and abuse!

carry on

William said...

Here's an anecdote I heard about the KGB. A couple of secret policeman arrested the composer Shostakovich. When they got back to headquarters, they discovered that the functionary who had ordered the arrest had himself been arrested. The two policeman were in a panic: should they release Shostakovich or continue the process?....It seems to me that some of the most oppressed and anxious people in the USSR were its high level functionaries. They weren't famine fodder like the agricultural workers, but they lived in a state of constant dread, complicity and guilt. These were hero cosmonauts and look how they were treated.....In support of Pogo, I would point out that there have not been too many interesting memoirs written by former concentration camp guards. There were many grand crimes in the Soviet Union but they will not be documented. Too many people were complicit. This is probably true of the Soviet space program.

knox said...

The authors base their narrative principally on revelations from a KGB officer, Venymin Ivanovich Russayev, and previous reporting by Yaroslav Golovanov in Pravda. This version — if it's true — is beyond shocking.

This puzzled me. This story is shocking to our sensiblilities, but it's certainly not surprising, considering it happened in Soviet Russia. Individuals were disposable.

knox said...

Note also that NPR had to include that some American astronauts died, too, as if there's a moral equivalence.

Freeman Hunt said...

Ha. It was NPR, so they had to add a little section called "Americans Died Too" as if there were any comparison between the circumstances.

Freeman Hunt said...

Heh. Cross-posting with knox.

Cedarford said...

It is the 2nd day that the Mercury MESSENGER probe has been in orbit around Mercury, after a 2,418 day journey and 7,900,310,000 KM (4,909,117,000 mile) travelled distance (complicated orbital mechanics - had to shed velocity needed to escape Earth by travelling to other planets to lose momentum - the fuel it would have taken to slow down otherwise was impossible to launch.)


It weighed 2,000 lbs at launch. It has 8 sensors that each use sensory tools far more precise than a human, 6 exploring Mercury that are more precise than any human would have if they had such senses. It is backed by thousands of scientists and engineers that meet or exceed any quals of any human launched in space.

http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/

The probe will be operating for several years, in an environment that would kill any human without mega-shielding, consume no food. water. When done, it will crash and die without any screaming.

NASA has also found that The Children!! are just as inspired by the Mars Rover robot Opportunity as they would be by Hero Astronauts on a mission there that would cost 10,000 times as much for the same results.

It is for that reason that unmanned space exploration has taken over. It will make sense for man to return one day, but only when or IF about 8 or so huge technological challenges to humans in space can be solved (none have since the days before Apollo).

My personal opinion is that it is more likely that the "man in space" may ultimately be a human-like AI in an electromechanical frame that can go where biological man cannot and live centuries or mnillenia longer.

Methadras said...

PatCA said...

Someone should make a movie about this story, to show that central planning by the government is a suicide mission.

Then we should make Obama watch it every day.


Are you kidding. You would basically be asking anyone involved in that movie to basically indict an entire ideology that they've been clinging to tell a story of what an utter failure it is/was.

Methadras said...

knox said...

This puzzled me. This story is shocking to our sensiblilities, but it's certainly not surprising, considering it happened in Soviet Russia. Individuals were disposable.


It's not that they were disposable in under the soviet system, but rather they were reduced to being nothing more than property or cattle. They disposability was a forgone conclusion.

The Drill SGT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Drill SGT said...

The commanding officers had to write home to the surviving family members. At least, that was/is the case in the British Army (my grandfather did so).

Yes Victoria, that is also the practice in the American Army. That's what got Tilman's commander in trouble.

We all wrote letters, and told them same lies. "your son died a hero. it was quick, etc.

I don't ever think that they should release audio tracks of deaths. Maybe the transcripts, but it doesn't do family any good to here their loved one in pain, or whimpering, or.. it does not serve any purpose other than tantalize the vicarious thrill seekers....

PS: The Apollo 1 fire wasn't comparable. Engineers made a mistake in the design, but they thought it was the best design. We learned from it.

vbspurs said...

William wrote:

It seems to me that some of the most oppressed and anxious people in the USSR were its high level functionaries. They weren't famine fodder like the agricultural workers, but they lived in a state of constant dread, complicity and guilt.

Brilliant, again.

Thinking of Yuri Gagarin and his now demoted KBG contact, Russayev, having to skulk in the greasy corridors of the agent's apartment building, so as to avoid being picked up by the mics spying on its citizens for any sign of rebellion, just brings William's point home.

I mean, can anyone imagine our greatest astronaut hero at that time, John Glenn, having to do that in the US?

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

The Drill Sgt wrote:

PS: The Apollo 1 fire wasn't comparable. Engineers made a mistake in the design, but they thought it was the best design. We learned from it.

Indeed it's not comparable, TDS.

Ram also noted in his reply:

Was the incompetence of the O-rings just a difference of degree from this story? Or does the monstrous lack of quality control in the old Soviet system represent a difference of kind?

To me, and to most Westerners, it's completely different. Even if Komarov is the only (official) cosmonaut to lose his life in space, and we've had way more tragedies, starting by Apollo 1, at no point did one feel that astronauts were expendable propaganda tools for the US.

Just contrast the flight Komarov was forced to take, with the heroic impromptu action of Yuri Gagarin showing up at the last minute with his space suit on, and then hearing about the anguished, angry cries of Komarov as he railed against the bureaucrats who forced him on a suicide mission...to how NASA handled Apollo 13.

Cheers,
Victoria

Seerak said...

It was "reported" the U.S. space program was trying to invent/create a pen which would work in "0" gravity and supposedly spent as much as $10 million on the project ...

Whereas the Russians just used a pencil lol

Talk about your fraud, waste and abuse!


Well, both space programs *were* government-run, so I don't doubt that monstrous waste happened (and happens) at NASA, but even so, that story's an urban legend. Snopes.

peter hoh said...

Victoria, I wouldn't try to read anything into a comment not showing up. There's some blogger feature that seems to block posts with multiple links.

As for the comment upthread that referenced the lost cosmonauts, that's a conspiracy theory right up there with the idea that the moon landing was faked.

I read a thorough debunking of the lost cosmonauts radio transmissions thing. Will see if I can find it, but it might have been in a book.

peter hoh said...

Found it:

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4115

Sofa King said...

Well, both space programs *were* government-run, so I don't doubt that monstrous waste happened (and happens) at NASA, but even so, that story's an urban legend. Snopes.

Not only is Shiloh the oikophobe completely wrong about his idiotic little anti-American anecdote, the Fisher Space Pen is still made today, and is still a really nice pen.

themightypuck said...

I didn't realize Krulwich was NPR. Is RadioLab NPR? If it is, I'm gonna have to oppose efforts to defund the beast.