Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov was the first man to die in space.
The Russian cosmonaut died aboard Soyuz 1 on April 24th, 1967, which crashed on its return to earth due to failure of the parachute mechanism.
Soyuz 1 was the first step in the Soviet's race to put a man on the moon. The plan was to launch Soyuz 1, then launch Soyuz 2 a day later with a three man crew, and complete a spacewalk of two cosmonauts from Soyuz 2 to Soyuz 1.
The problems with Soyuz 1 began shortly after it achieved orbit. One of the solar panels failed to open, depriving the ship of half of its planned solar power. Komarov repeatedly attempted maneouvres to orient the spacecraft to the sun, without success. Ground control decided to bring Komarov back to Earth earlier than planned. A series of poor decisions by ground control, and additional equipment failures meant that Komarov made 19 revolutions before able to attempt a manual orientation with retrofire to bring the vessel into a descent.
On an early orbit, Komarov makes a strident radio broadcast:
'for (or in the benefit) of the peoples of our fatherland along the for the whole humanity famous way to communism. Pilot-cosmonaut Komarov.'
Realising he was aboard a stricken craft, Komarov's radio communiques became increasingly agitated. Several persons claimed to have picked up radio communications from Soyuz-1, either as dedicated amateur radio enthusiasts, or officials working at military listening posts. This analysis of the flight of Soyuz-1 tries to piece together what happened to Soyuz-1 from the mass of often conflicting data.
According to one recording made by a NSA listening station in Istanbul, Komorov's radio communications became increasingly fraught, and knew that he was doomed:
"He understood that there was trouble with "stabilization" and that Komarov replied to commands from the ground by saying "I'm doing it...it still isn't working..." He kept asking "How long till re-entry?".
Some reports have Komarov allegedly cursing Brezhnev, the spacecraft designers and flight controllers, and accusing them of killing him, while other radio intercepts claim that he remained calm and loyal even in his final moments. His last words are thought to be "the parachute is wrong" and "heat is rising in the capsule".
The capsule crashed near the village of Karabulak in the Orenburg Region of Orsk, (now part of Kazakhstan). Komarov's badly burnt body was recovered from the capsule and flown to Moscow for a post-mortem. Komarov's ashes were interned in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis on the Red Square in Moscow. A memorial was created on cosmonauts alley in Moscow.
In 1969, Neil Armstrong placed a small memorial on the moon, to Komarov and the three American astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who died during a training mission Apollo 1 in January 1967.
The track Komarov by the artist Regis appeared on the compilation Merge 7, and samples some of Komarov's radio communications.
Download komarov.mp3 (5Mb)