On this day in 1967, Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov is killed when his parachute fails to deploy during his spacecraft’s landing.
Komarov was testing the spacecraft Soyuz I in the midst of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Earlier in 1967, the U.S. space program had experienced its own tragedy. Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chafee, NASA astronauts in the Apollo program, were killed in a fire during tests on the ground.
Komarov, a fighter pilot and aeronautical engineer, had made his first space trip in 1964, three years before the doomed 1967 voyage. After 24 hours and 16 orbits of the earth, Komarov was scheduled to reenter the atmosphere, but ran into difficulty handling the vessel and was unable to fire the rocket brakes. It took two more trips around the earth before the cosmonaut could manage reentry.
When Soyuz I reached an altitude of 23,000 feet, a parachute was supposed to deploy, bringing Komarov safely to earth. However, the lines of the chute had gotten tangled during the craft’s reentry difficulties and there was no backup chute. Komarov plunged to the ground and was killed.
There was vast public mourning of Komarov in Moscow and his ashes were buried in the wall of the Kremlin. Sadly, Komarov’s wife had not been told of the Soyuz I launch until after Komarov was already in orbit and did not get to say goodbye to her husband.
Despite the dangers, both the Soviet Union and the U.S. continued their space exploration programs. The U.S. landed men on the moon just two years later.