The Tragic Story of Vladimir Komarov, the Astronaut Who Was Burned Alive During Reentry into Earth’s Atmosphere

During the space race of the 1960’s, manned missions were incredibly dangerous. One of the most tragic examples of just how perilous these missions were is the story of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. He became the first person to die on a space mission.

In 1967, the Soyuz 1 left Earth with Komarov on board. It was his second space flight. But once the spacecraft began orbiting Earth, numerous failures began to take place. Navigation was faulty, power was compromised, and the antennas failed to open properly. Apparently, the Soyuz 1 was poorly constructed, and the officials knew this before sending Komarov into space. The spacecraft was not ready for manned flight.

While continuing to orbit our planet, Komarov knew he wouldn’t make it back alive. Little did he know, the parachutes on the capsule were defective.

When the capsule began its decent into Earth’s atmosphere, the parachutes failed to open properly — hurtling Komarov to the ground from four miles up in the sky. He was literally crashing towards the ground at full speed, at about the rate of a meteor.

During reentry, a craft travels at about six miles per second, and experiences extreme heat and aerodynamic forces because of friction with the atmosphere. Temperatures can actually reach beyond 3000 degree Fahrenheit, with deceleration loads being seven times that the force of gravity.

The remains of astronaut Vladimir Komarov, a man who fell from space, 1967 (1)

It is likely that Komarov was instantly killed upon impact, his body turning to molten. According to U.S. listening posts in Turkey, while falling to Earth, Komarov was crying in rage “cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.” A few translators believe he said, “Heat is rising in the capsule.” He is also heard saying the word “killed” — most likely this is to describe what the spacecraft engineers had done to him.