The Space Race
In the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union were involved in the Space Race. Both nations were determined to one-up the other when it came to space exploration. The Soviets had already beat out the U.S. on a number of occasions. The first time they did was in 1957 when they launched the first satellite to break through Earth’s orbit, called Sputnik.
In 1961, the Soviets one-upped the United States again when they sent the first human in history into space. The man’s name is Yuri Gagarin. When he returned home to Earth, he was considered a hero and a national celebrity. Seeing what the Soviets had pulled off only made the United States work harder on their efforts. This made the Space Race grow in intensity.
The Goal: A Lunar Landing
By 1967, both nations had successfully sent men into space. People from both nations cheered for the
The United States’ Attempt
America took the first shot at putting a man on the moon. They were training three astronauts, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White to make the trip to the moon. Sadly, a routine ground test resulted in an explosion, and all three men died inside the ship. This gave the Soviet Union the window of opportunity that they needed to send one of their men to the moon.
At the time, Leonid Brezhnev was in charge of the Soviet Union. His main goal while in power was to win the Space Race. He wanted to give the Soviet Union a huge lead over the United States, so he planned to launch two ships into space. They would then rendezvous, dock, and exchange crew members before heading back home to Earth. The astronauts chosen to make this historical journey were sure that they could pull off the dangerous mission. They knew that they had to succeed because their country’s reputation depended upon it.
The first ship, the Soyuz 1, would be manned by Vladimir Komarov. He was friends with Yuri Gagarin, who was the first Soviet in space. He was a skilled astronaut, but he was still a bit hesitant about the mission. The hatch that led into the Soyuz 1 was too narrow for him to fit through while wearing his suit. This worried him seriously. When engineers looked at the spacecraft, they found 203 issues. Unfortunately, nobody was brave enough to tell Brezhnev about the issues.
Knowing about all of the spacecraft’s issues, Vladimir told Yuri that he knew that he wouldn’t make it back from the mission, but he had to go anyway. He knew that if he bailed out of the mission, Yuri would take his place, and he would feel guilty forever.
As soon as the ship launched, Vladimir had issues. One of the solar panels never deployed, so he lost the ability to navigate. Soon the thermal control system was gone, and the ship began to spin out of control. Unfortunately, ground control couldn’t communicate with Vladimir. Americans listening to the launch in Turkey could hear Vladimir screaming with rage.
One Chance At Survival
As the ship began hurling down to Earth, it took five terrifying hours. His only chance was to fire retrorockets to show the ship’s speed own so that the parachute would deploy. The parachutes never opened, and the ship crashed onto the ground at full force. Vladimir was killed instantly while the Soviet Union watched in horror as the mission failed miserably. The troops rushed to the crash site hoping to find Vladimir alive, but all they found was twisted pieces of metal. Many people wonder if the Space Race wasn’t in full speed if Vladimir would never have perished in the spacecraft.
One final act of bravery made this astronaut a hero in the eyes of the world. After his death, Vladimir was given tow medals to honor his courage and dedication. Moscow held a state funeral for him, and his ashes were placed in a tomb in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis at Red Square. Yuri was devastated when his friend died, and he did an interview letting the world know that it was a fool’s mission. Sadly, in 1986, the U.S. suffered a loss similar when the Challenger blew in front of over 40 million viewers, including school children. Since the first teacher in history, Christa McAuliffe was going into space, the launch was watched in schools all over the U.S.