March 18th, 2011
|08:35 pm - Starman|
This story would make a brilliant and tragic film. (Emergency note I must add - gruesome picture alert on that link. You can get the story from my excerpts here without clicking that.)
This extraordinarily intimate account of the 1967 death of a Russian cosmonaut appears in a new book, Starman, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, to be published next month. The authors base their narrative principally on revelations from a KGB officer, Venymin Ivanovich Russayev.
Starman tells the story of a friendship between two cosmonauts, Vladimir Kamarov and Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space. The two men were close; they socialized, hunted and drank together.
... technicians had inspected the Soyuz 1 and had found 203 structural problems — serious problems that would make this machine dangerous to navigate in space.
Although he knew this, Kamarov refused to back down from piloting the Soyuz.
"If I don't make this flight, they'll send the backup pilot instead." That was Yuri Gagarin. Vladimir Komarov couldn't do that to his friend. "That's Yura," the book quotes him saying, "and he'll die instead of me. We've got to take care of him." Komarov then burst into tears.
On launch day, April 23, 1967, a Russian journalist, Yaroslav Golovanov, reported that Gagarin showed up at the launch site and demanded to be put into a spacesuit, though no one was expecting him to fly. Golovanov called this behavior "a sudden caprice," though afterward some observers thought Gagarin was trying to muscle onto the flight to save his friend. The Soyuz left Earth with Komarov on board.
And he died in space.
When the capsule began its descent and the parachutes failed to open, the book describes how American intelligence "picked up [Komarov's] cries of rage as he plunged to his death." It is reported that Gagarin later met with Brezhnev, and threw a drink in his face. Gagarin died the next year in a plane crash.
OK, that book is going on my wishlist. I'd heard part of this story before, but not those disturbing details.
I was thinking that it's more common to hear about friendships between men than women, and sometimes I think I am too focused on men's stories. I do think women make sacrifices for each other, but perhaps in ways that are less clear or dramatic. A story about cosmonauts externalises the drama, and then we can all relate to it.
Did you catch Apollo Wives
? -- BBC4 documentary about the wives of the American astronauts. There was a bit where they all quietly gathered to support the wife of someone who'd been killed, which had me in floods of tears.
Ah, no, I seem to have stopped listening to the radio these days. It's a good example.
It was actually tv not radio; worth a try if it ever gets repeated.
Edited at 2011-03-19 08:00 pm (UTC)
This is really sad and brave and heartbreaking...
Yes. I think it would almost be too much if it were a made up story.
That's true. Sometimes reality writes the best stories.