Ed Driscoll

The Right Stuff, for the Wrong Team

At NPR (I know, I know, but stick with this), a harrowing story of two Soviet cosmonauts, one of whom was Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and the other is best friend, who ultimately sacrifices himself to save Gagarin from going up in what both men likely knew was a doomed mission at the height of the Space Race:

So there’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.”

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, and previous reporting by Yaroslav Golovanov in Pravda. This version — if it’s true — is beyond shocking.

Don’t miss this one.