Today, on National Public Radio, reporter Robert Krulwich revisits the first death of a Soviet Cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov. It is a harrowing tale.
…here’s a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he’s on the phone with Alexsei Kosygin — then a high official of the Soviet Union — who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die.
The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won’t work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, “cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.”
It is a tale of national pride gone badly astray, where a brave man’s life was sacrificed because of willful bureaucratic blindness. Like the US a few scant months before with the fire in Apollo 1, the Soviets assumed that since they had the superior political system, their science was perfect. Such smug nationalist notions typically lead to much sadness.
But unlike more the more dainty US sensibilities, the Soviets did display the costs of such bravery in the face of incompetent political leadership. Komarov’s casket was open. Too often, Americans are shielded from the true costs of governmental folly. We do need to see the harm inflicted on human beings. For if we see it, we must then stop it.