Science Art: Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, Voskhod 1, 4-kopek stamp, 1964

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This is Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov (or call-sign “Ruby”), the first man to die in space. He’d been denied admission to the space program twice on medical grounds, and then helped design spacecraft and train astronauts before being given command of the Soyuz 1 lunar project… and died on a practice run, when the capsule’s parachute failed to deploy on re-entry. That was three years after this stamp was issued.

The wild part: he knew the thing was doomed. He’d tried to get the design changed. From Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

The following month Komarov clashed with other engineers over ongoing design problems in which zero-G tests showed that the Soyuz module hatch was too small to allow the exit of a fully suited cosmonaut safely. Meanwhile, Komarov and his fellow cosmonauts had their groups and assignments constantly revised and they became increasingly anxious about the lack of response to their concerns about the design and manufacture of space craft which had been raised in a letter to Leonid Brezhnev by Yuri Gagarin on their behalf.

Komarov was selected to command the Soyuz 1, in 1967, with Yuri Gagarin as his backup cosmonaut. The cosmonauts knew that the spacecraft had major safety problems, but Komarov stated that if he were to refuse to fly, Gagarin would be forced to go instead. Komarov chose to fly to protect Gagarin, and insisted before the flight that his funeral be open-casket so that the Soviet leadership could see what they had done. During the preparations for the spaceflight, both cosmonauts were working twelve- to fourteen-hour days. On orbital insertion, the solar panels of the Soyuz module failed to fully deploy thereby preventing the craft from being fully powered and obscuring some of the navigation equipment. Komarov reported: “Conditions are poor. The cabin parameters are normal, but the left solar panel didn’t deploy. The electrical bus is at only 13 to 14 amperes. The HF (high frequency) communications are not working. I cannot orient the spacecraft to the sun. I tried orienting the spacecraft manually using the DO-1 orientation engines, but the pressure remaining on the DO-1 has gone down to 180.”

To reach the designated landing site at Orsk the retro-fire would need to take place on the night side of the Earth. Komarov oriented the spacecraft manually on the dayside then used the gyro-platform as a reference so that he could orient the craft for a night side retro-fire. He successfully re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on his 19th orbit, but the module’s drogue and main braking parachute failed to deploy correctly and the module crashed into the ground, killing Komarov. According to the 1998 book Starman, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, as Komarov sped towards his death, U.S. listening posts in Turkey picked up transmissions of him crying in rage, “cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.”

There are photos of his funeral, held according to his wishes.

In a critical interview with Pravda afterward, Gagarin said: “He has shown us how dangerous the pathway to space is. His flight and his death will teach us courage.”