Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov was a Soviet test pilot, aerospace engineer, and cosmonaut. In October 1964, he commanded Voskhod 1, the first spaceflight to carry more than one crew member. He became the first Soviet cosmonaut to fly in space twice when he was selected as the solo pilot of Soyuz 1, its first crewed test flight. A parachute failure caused his Soyuz capsule to crash into the ground after re-entry on 24 April 1967, making him the first human to die in a space flight.
Komarov was one of the most highly experienced and qualified candidates accepted into the first squad of cosmonauts selected in 1960. He was declared medically unfit for training or spaceflight twice while he was in the program, but his perseverance, superior skills, and engineering knowledge allowed him to continue playing an active role. During his time at the cosmonaut training center, he contributed to space vehicle design, cosmonaut training, evaluation and public relations.
Early lifeKomarov was born on 16 March 1927 in Moscow and grew up with his half-sister Matilda. His father was a labourer who worked at various low-paid jobs to support the family. In 1935, Komarov began his formal education in the local elementary school. Here he showed a natural aptitude for mathematics. In 1941, Komarov left school because of World War II and the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and he became a laborer on a collective farm. He showed an interest in aeronautics from an early age, and he collected magazines and pictures about aviation, in addition to making model aircraft and his own propeller. At the age of fifteen in 1942, Komarov entered the "1st Moscow Special Air Force School" to pursue his dream of becoming an aviator. Shortly thereafter, his family learned that Komarov's father had been killed in an "unknown war action". Of necessity because of the German invasion, the flight school was soon moved to the Tyumen region in Siberia for the duration of the war. Students there learned a wide variety of subjects besides aviation—including zoology and foreign languages. In 1945, Komarov graduated from flight school with honors. World War II hostilities ended before Komarov was called on to enter combat.
In 1946, Komarov completed his first year of training at the Chkalov Higher Air Force School in Borisoglebsk in Voronezh Oblast. He then completed his training at the A.K. Serov Military Aviation College in Bataisk. Komarov's mother died in 1948, seven months before his graduation in 1949, at which he received his pilot's wings and commission as a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force.
Career in the Soviet Air ForceIn December 1949, Komarov served as the pilot of a fighter plane with the 383rd Regiment of the 42nd North Caucasian Fighter Air Division that was based in Grozny.
Komarov married Valentina Yakovlevna Kiselyova in October 1950. He was promoted to senior lieutenant in 1952, and he was later assigned as the chief pilot of the 486th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the 279th Fighter Air Division in the Prikarpate Region. Komarov continued to fly in that position until 1954, and then he enrolled in an engineering course at the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy. In 1959, Komarov was promoted to the rank of senior engineer-lieutenant. Later that year he achieved his goal of becoming a test pilot at the Central Scientific Research Institute at Chkalovsky.
Air Force Group OneIn September 1959, Komarov was promoted to engineer-captain and invited to participate in the selection process for cosmonaut candidate along with approximately 3,000 other pilots. He was one of twenty candidates selected for "Air Force Group One"; he and the others reported to the newly formed TsPK just outside Moscow for assignment on 13 March 1960.
Although eminently qualified, Komarov was not chosen in the top six candidates, because he did not meet the age, height, and weight restrictions specified by the Chief Designer of Russia's space program, Sergei Korolev. "If the criteria had been different," the cosmonaut trainer Mark Gallai noted in an interview, "Certainly Komarov, who was very intelligent, would have been in the group. He had Air Force Academy flight experience. He had a great influence on the design of the 'Vostok' and 'Voskhod'." At age 32, Komarov was the second oldest of the pilots chosen; Korolev had specified a maximum age of 27. Only two members of the first group, Pavel Belyayev and Komarov himself, were also graduates of the Soviet Air Force Academy. In addition, only Komarov had experience as a flight test engineer on new aircraft.
TrainingShortly after beginning his training Komarov was hospitalised for a minor operation in May 1960, which left him medically unfit for physical training for approximately six months. At the time, the selection criteria placed a heavy emphasis on the physical condition of cosmonauts and any imperfection led to instant disqualification. Since Komarov already held engineering qualifications, he was allowed to remain in the program after assuring the administration he would be able to catch up. He continued with the required academic studies while recovering. He returned to training in October, because his recovery was more rapid than medical staff had expected. During that time he assisted his younger peers with their academic studies; earning him the casual nickname of "The Professor," which he shared with Belyayev, who was two years his senior. In 1961 the first space flights began. By 1962, Komarov was the third-highest-paid cosmonaut, due to his qualifications, rank and experience. He earned 528 rubles a month, with only cosmonauts 1 and 2, Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov, being more highly paid.
When Georgi Shonin demonstrated an unacceptable level of g-force susceptibility in the centrifuge he was replaced by Komarov in May 1962 for planned dual Vostok missions.
Komarov was selected as back up for Pavel Popovich, but subsequent routine ECG testing of Komarov revealed a heart irregularity and he was pulled from the program and replaced by Boris Volynov. The same heart irregularity grounded American astronaut Deke Slayton. After Komarov persistently lobbied medical and military personnel for re-admittance to the program, they allowed him to return to training.
In 1963, cosmonaut training was conducted in six Groups, with Komarov being selected in Group 2 with Valery Bykovsky and Volynov. This group was to train for missions of up to five days in duration scheduled for the latter part of 1963. In May 1963 Alekseyev proposed to General Kamanin that Komarov be named backup for Vostok 5 rather than Khrunov because his suit was ready. Komarov was later named in a further group for planned missions in 1964 with Belyaev, Shonin, Khrunov, Zaikin, Gorbatko, Volynov, and Leonov. The training groups were formed for later Vostok missions, but no actual crews were assigned and the missions did not occur under the auspices of the original Vostok program. In December 1963, Komarov was shortlisted for flight by Kamanin with Volynov and Leonov, having completed two years of training.
In April 1964 Komarov was declared space-flight ready with Bykovsky, Popovich, Titov, Volynov, Leonov, Khrunov, Belyayev, and Lev Demin. From this group the commander of the planned Voskhod mission scheduled for late 1964 would be chosen. In May the group was reduced to Volynov, Komarov, Leonov and Khrunov.
During training, Komarov lived at the TsPK with his wife Valentina and their two children Yevgeny and Irina. There, he enjoyed hunting, cross country skiing, ice hockey, and other social activities with his fellow trainees in their leisure time. Komarov was well liked by his peers, who referred to him as Volodya. Pavel Popovich noted that Komarov was respected for his humility and experience: "he was already an engineer when he joined us, but he never looked down on the others. He was warm-hearted, purposeful and industrious. Volodya's prestige was so high that people came to him to discuss all questions: personal as well as questions of our work."
Fellow cosmonaut Alexei Leonov described him as "very serious. He was a first-class test pilot."
Voskhod 1By July 1964, only seven cosmonauts remained eligible for the Voskhod crew after some were disqualified on medical grounds. On 6 July, Komarov was named as the commander of the back-up crew for Voskhod 1. After much heated debate over several months about the selection of the crew between Nikolai Kamanin and Sergei Korolev, Komarov was named as prime crew commander on 4 October 1964, by the State Commission; just eight days before its scheduled launch. Kamanin played tennis with the Voskhod crew that evening and noted that Komarov played poorly in comparison to his crew: Boris Yegorov and Konstantin Feoktistov.
On 9 October, Komarov and the crew inspected the Voskhod with Korolev and other members of the administration. Later that day they were interviewed by the state press and played tennis for the benefit of photographers.
On the morning of 11 October, Komarov was given various communist relics to take with him into space the following day. In the afternoon the crew again inspected the capsule and were given their final instructions by Korolev. Komarov was the only member of the crew to have undertaken extensive training and was the only member with any flight experience; the two other crewmen being civilians. His call sign was "Ruby".
During the mission Komarov performed various tasks with the other crew members, including medical and navigational tests and observing the Aurora Borealis. He also made a number of radio transmissions, including a greeting to the Tokyo Olympics, which had opened on 10 October. The mission lasted just over twenty-four hours. After the crew landed safely they were flown back to the launch site at Tyuratam. Kamanin noted in his diary that while his crew were in good spirits, Komarov was fatigued. On 19 October, Komarov and his crew made reports in Red Square and attended an audience at the Kremlin. After the success of this short but scientifically important mission he was promoted to colonel. The success of the mission earned Komarov the awards of the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union.
In December 1964, the RVSN requested that Komarov be transferred from the VVS to the RVSN, in a move possibly motivated by the poor record of the RVSN in producing successful rockets compared to the VVS. The request was opposed by Kamanin.
In 1965, Komarov worked with Yuri Gagarin in supervising preparations for the flight of Voskhod 2, which carried out the first attempt of an extravehicular activity in outer space. These preparations included fitting of space suits on the cosmonauts and briefings for the spaceflight. In April of that year, Komarov toured Leningrad with Kamanin, Gagarin, Gherman Titov, Belyayev, and Leonov. Komarov also visited Petropavlovsk Fortress with Valentin Glushko where Glushko had conducted early rocket experiments in the early 1930s. In September that year, Komarov toured West Germany.