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At 03:22 GMT on April 24, 1967 the Soyuz 1 space capsule crashed while attempting a landing, killing its single cosmonaut occupant. The crash was not only the first fatal accident in the history of the Soviet Union, but also the first in-flight space-related death in the world.

How did it happen?

The Soyuz 1 mission had been riddled with issues as soon as it left the pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrom in Tyuratam, Kazakh SSR. It was in orbit for 88.7 minutes, reaching an altitude of 223 kilometers.  The capsule soon lost its ability to automatically maintain its own stability, a task which was transferred over to its occupant, Vladimir Komarov, through a manual control system that also presented a series of problems. More pressingly, one of the solar panels intended to power the flight refused to deploy, leaving Soyuz 1 to operate on low power. A repair flight was considered, but ultimately it was decided to bring the capsule back to Earth. An indication of how little faith Soviet mission control had in their ability to bring cosmonaut Komarov home safely could be seen in their decision to bring his wife and children into the facility to say goodbye to him over the uplink. After firing its rockets to break orbit, the Soyuz 1 capsule failed to release its parachutes properly and was unable to slow down. The capsule exploded on impact and killed Komarov.


Further investigation into the parachute problem revealed the the cosmonaut had in fact attempted to manually deploy a back-up parachute when he realized that the first two had failed. However, it got tangled up with the chutes trailing the capsule, and was useless, causing the capsule to impact the ground at a speed of 140 kilometers per hour. Rockets meant to slow the capsule down never fired during the descent, leaving Komarov to impact the ground at great speed, where he was killed instantly. Local farmers witnessed the crash and attempted to fight the fire, but it was too late to save the occupant of the craft.

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