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  • Writer's pictureAeryn Avilla

More Things in Heaven and Earth: Voskhod 1 and the First Space Crew

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Voskhod 1 (just called Voskhod at the time) was the first three-person (and multi-person) spaceflight. During its single day in orbit, it accomplished a series of firsts, including carrying the first civilians into space and becoming the first crewed Russian spacecraft to land on the ground. Callsign Rubin (Ruby), Voskhod 1 completed the goals of

  1. Testing a new multi-person spacecraft (before the United States)

  2. Conducting biological, physiological, and technical research

  3. Investigating how well cosmonauts from different backgrounds and specialties work together in space


The crew of Voskhod 1 - Konstantin Feoktistov, Boris Yegorov, and Vladimir Komarov
The crew of Voskhod 1 - Konstantin Feoktistov, Boris Yegorov, and Vladimir Komarov (RKK Energia)

The original spacecraft was designed to carry two cosmonauts, like its American counterpart Gemini, but politicians pushed for squeezing three cosmonauts (literally) into the first Voskhod mission. Chief Designer Sergei Korolev conceived the Voskhod 3KV in February 1964, and the design was approved the following March. Similar to Gemini with Mercury, it was heavily based off the single-person Vostok. The size and habitable volume did not change, though, and the single ejection seat was removed and replaced with the first Russian soft landing system called Elbrus [1] [2]. Instruments were still mounted in their original Vostok positions but the new crew couches were perpendicular to the old ejection seats, meaning the crew had to strain their necks to read the instrumentation panel. Originally, four spacecraft (two with two seats and two with three seats) were approved for construction [3].


Voskhod 1 3KV spacecraft
Voskhod 1's 3KV with half of its launch shroud. The short cylinder on top is the backup retrorocket package while the large sphere is the descent module. At the bottom is the service module (partially inside the adapter for the Voskhod launch vehicle) (RKK Energia)

Nikolai Kamanin with Yuri Gagarin
Kamanin with Yuri Gagarin (source: dailyskier.com)

The Soviet Air Force wanted an all-military crew, but Korolev insisted on including civilian cosmonauts. First man in space Yuri Gagarin expressed desire to command the first mission, but Nikolai Kamanin [4], the head of cosmonaut training from 1960 to 1971, thought the mission was too risky to sacrifice the Soviet Union's greatest hero. In May 1964, four candidates for the "doctor cosmonaut" position— Vasili Lazarev [5], Boris Polyakov, Alexei Sorokin, and Boris

Yegorov— and "scientist cosmonaut" Georgi Katys entered training for the first mission. On July 6, Kamanin selected Katys, Yegorov, and commander Boris Volynov as the mission's prime crew with Konstantin Feoktistov (scientist), Sorokin (doctor), and Vladimir Komarov (commander) as their backups. Korolev, however, demanded his protege Feoktistov, one of the designers of the Voskhod spacecraft, be bumped up to the prime crew. In late August, it was discovered that Katys's father was executed by the State, disqualifying him from the prestigious cosmonaut corps. Soviet news outlets began making film biographies and press kits of all mission candidates to be released once the final crew was in orbit. For fans of early American space history, it is interesting to note that even in September the final prime crew of Voskhod was yet to be determined.


The planned September launch of the first crewed Voskhod mission continued to slip as more issues with the spacecraft and booster were uncovered. On September 8, the craft was dropped from a height of 6.2 miles (10 km) to test its parachutes, but crashed into the ground when the hatch failed to deploy. The following day, the launch of the Zenit 4 reconnaissance satellite using the Voskhod launch vehicle was aborted when the Block A (first stage) strap-on boosters failed to ignite. On October 4, commander Vladimir Komarov, scientist Konstantin Feoktistov, and doctor Boris Yegorov were named the mission's prime crew— only eight days before launch.


Voskhod 1 and Soyuz 1 commander Vladimir Komarov
Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov

Major Vladimir Komarov (commander)

Komarov was born on March 16, 1927 in Moscow. He joined the Soviet Air Force at age 15 and was selected as part of the first class of cosmonauts in March 1960. His background in engineering and experience as a test pilot granted him influence over the design of the Vostok and Voskhod spacecraft, though he was not chosen as a primary Vostok pilot because he did not meet the height, weight, and age requirements established by Sergei Korolev. He served as backup for Vostok 4 in 1962 but a routine electrocardiogram test revealed a heart irregularity, resulting in his removal from active flight duty [6]. Komarov became the first Russian to make two spaceflights when he served as the sole pilot of Soyuz 1 on April 23, 1967 [7]. The mission intended to dock with the three-person Soyuz 2 and have two cosmonauts transfer from Soyuz 2 to Soyuz 1 via EVA, but the launch of Soyuz 2 was postponed due to thunderstorms. Once in orbit, one of the Soyuz's solar panels failed to deploy and Komarov was unable to maneuver the spacecraft. Reentry was successful but the main parachute did not deploy due to a failure of the sensor that detects atmospheric pressure and triggers automatic parachute release. The cosmonaut manually released the reserve chute but it became tangled with the drag chute, which had successfully deployed earlier. The spacecraft crashed into a field near Orenburg in Kazakhstan and Komarov was killed on impact on April 24, 1967. His remains were recovered and interred in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. His sacrifice was honored by the crews of Apollo 11 and Apollo 15 on the lunar surface [8].


Voskhod 1 cosmonaut Konstantin Feoktistov
Konstantin Petrovich Feoktistov

Konstantin Feoktistov (scientist)

Feoktistov was born on February 7, 1926 in Voronezh, Russia. When the city was invaded and occupied by Axis powers during World War II, he served as a scout for the Soviet army. Feoktistov was captured by the Waffen-SS and sentenced to death by firing squad, but he was shot in the neck and managed to escape from the burial trench. He went on to design the Sputnik, Vostok, Voskhod, and Soyuz spacecraft in the 1950s and 1960s, and opposed converting the single-seat Vostok into a triple-seat Voskhod...that is, until Korolev suggested he might fill one of the three seats. Feoktistov was the only cosmonaut not a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was not a favorite of Kamanin. Despite his best efforts, he was never assigned to another mission but remained in the cosmonaut corps and went on to play a major role in designing the Salyut and Mir space stations. In October 1969, Feoktistov and Soyuz 3 cosmonaut Georgi Beregovoi visited the United States, spending time at NASA facilities, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Disneyland in California. He died on November 21, 2009.


Voskhod 1 cosmonaut Boris Yegorov
Boris Borisovich Yegorov

Dr. Boris Yegorov (doctor)

Yegorov was born on November 26, 1937 in Moscow and became the first physician in space. Specializing in balance and the inner ear, he joined the Soviet space program as part of a team of doctors who studied medical telemetry data from Soviet spaceflights. His father's influence within the Politburo helped him gain a seat on the prime crew of the first crewed Voskhod mission. Following his single spaceflight, he became a professor at the Moscow Medical Institute and developed medical equipment used in later crewed spaceflight. He died on September 12, 1994.



Voskhod 1 launched on October 12, 1964 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, but there was something that made it unique— the spacecraft had no ejection seats, launch escape system, or spacesuits. As stated earlier, the ejection seat was replaced by new crew couches, and there was not enough time to develop a launch escape system. The crew did not wear spacesuits due to the capsule's small habitable volume. Omission of these three items reduced the vehicle's overall mass, allowing the spacecraft, now below the Voskhod launch vehicle's maximum payload capacity, to be inserted into a higher orbit than any crewed spacecraft before it, setting a human altitude record of 209 miles (336 km). Atmospheric drag caused the capsule to decrease in height and reach its intended altitude. On the third orbit, the crew spoke with Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who was not in Moscow but at his vacation home by the Black Sea. The sixth and seventh orbits were dedicated to television broadcasts, and the crew greeted the Soviet team at the Olympic Games in Tokyo [9].


Liftoff of Voskhod 1 on October 12, 1964
Liftoff of Voskhod 1 (RKK Energia)

During the mission's sixteen orbits, Feoktistov conducted visual observations of the spacecraft he helped design. Yegorov performed medical experiments that could not have been done during solo flights: He measured the crew's blood pressure, took blood samples, recorded brain waves, and tested muscle coordination. After an almost an entire day in space, the crew informed ground control they were doing well and requested the mission be extended. Korolev radioed back, "There are more things in heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy" and ordered the crew to return home [10]. Shortly after, Voskhod 1 landed 194 miles (312 km) northwest of Kostanay in northern Kazakhstan. It was the first time a crewed spacecraft hit the ground, and the first time a Russian crew returned from space inside their capsule.


The three cosmonauts of Voskhod 1 (RKK Energia; source for photo on right)

Rubin is now located in the RKK Energia Museum in Korolev, Russia. NASA Administrator James Webb called it a "significant space accomplishment" and "a clear indication that the Russians are continuing a large space program for the achievement of national power and prestige" a. The crew did not know it at the time, but while they were in space a bloodless coup removed Khrushchev from power and replaced him with Leonid Brezhnev (served 1964 to 1982).


Voskhod 1, one of the most gutsy (and sketchiest) space missions in history, accomplished a number of firsts, including the first physician and first and only spacecraft designer in space, the first civilians in space, the first Russian spacecraft soft-landing, and the first space crew. Though often overshadowed by Voskhod 2, it is an interesting example of how different the early American and Soviet space programs were.



Author's note: Thanks for reading about my favorite Russian space mission and remember to like, comment, and share!



 

[1] The prior Vostok missions did not have a soft-landing system like American capsules. Instead, cosmonauts ejected out of their spacecraft and returned to the ground under their own personal parachute.

[2] The name comes from Mount E'lbrus, the highest point in Russia and all of Europe.

[3] The two-person spacecraft was the Voskhod 3KD and included an inflatable airlock called Volga for EVA. Only one of each type of craft ended up being built.

[4] Kamanin was a decorated Soviet military aviator and the father of Arkady Kamanin, the youngest fighter pilot in world history (he joined the Red Army Air Force during World War II at age 14).

[5] Lazarev is the only cosmonaut of this group (other than Yegorov of course) to fly in space— Soyuz 12 in 1973.

[6] The same heart condition grounded NASA astronaut Deke Slayton the same year. Coincidentally, Slayton was scheduled to fly the fourth manned Mercury mission.

[7] Gus Grissom was the first American to fly in space twice, serving as sole pilot of Mercury-Redstone 4 (1961) and command pilot Gemini 3 (1965). Gemini 3 is considered the American equivalent of Voskhod 1. Another coincidence is that he too was killed in the line of duty in 1967.

[8] Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong left a small memorial to Komarov, Yuri Gagarin (who died in March 1968), and the Apollo 1 astronauts on the lunar surface in July 1969. Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott also placed a plaque with the names of fallen astronauts and cosmonauts at Hadley-Rille in July 1971.

[9] The 1964 Summer Olympics were held in October to avoid Tokyo's hot and unpleasant summers and typhoon season in September (just like Florida).

[10] This is a very famous line from William Shakespeare's Hamlet (though you haven't truly read Shakespeare unless in the original Klingon).



 

Bibliography

Individual cosmonaut portraits are courtesy of RKK Energia

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