“Don’t blame anyone – it’s my fault”: The death of a member of the first cosmonaut corps was kept secret. The order to establish the first Soviet cosmonaut corps was given 65 years ago, 22.05.2024, 07:59.

In the first squad

Valentin Bondarenko’s life path before joining the cosmonaut corps was generally the same as Gagarin’s. He was born into a working-class family in 1937 (three years younger than Gagarin), and like Gagarin, he survived the German occupation in his childhood and lived with his family in Kharkov. After graduating from school, the young man decided to become a pilot, and the first time it did not work out: he was not accepted into one flight school, then he was accepted into another, but soon dispersed. People related to aviation are superstitious and some of Bondarenko’s friends it was believed this series of failures is a sign of fate: “Don’t fly!”

But Bondarenko had been going to the flying club since his school years and was not going to give up. As a result, the young man entered the Armavir Military School and became a fighter pilot in 1957. However, his military service was short-lived.

On May 22, 1959, a decision was issued by the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the USSR “On the preparation of man for space flights”, that is, on the order to create the first cosmonaut corps. 23-year-old Bondarenko became the youngest member of the group.

Like Gagarin, Bondarenko was an excellent pilot and also stood out for his diligence and energetic character. He was remembered by other cosmonauts for knocking on everyone’s door every morning and urging them to exercise. “He was never offended by friendly jokes. When he was caught, he laughed along with everyone else. If a person has a sense of humor about himself, he is, as a rule, a kind person. “He had a lot of courage and determination.” remembered cosmonaut Alexey Leonov.

Bondarenko’s colleagues recall the story that one day he saw on the street a little boy climbing from the apartment to the outer window sill of the fifth floor and froze with fear. The cosmonaut immediately climbed into the sewer pipe and pulled the child out. The drain should not support the weight of an adult, so Bondarenko was lucky with his slender build and the fact that the builders of the house did the job meticulously.

tragic fire

Sometimes Bondarenko’s death is presented in a particularly dramatic way: allegedly it was he, not Gagarin, who was supposed to become the first cosmonaut, and the death occurred directly during the preparation for the flight. This is wrong.

The first death in the cosmonaut corps occurred at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Moscow (later NII-7 Air Force) and had nothing to do with the first flight. Additionally, the launch decision was made in a hurry due to news about the possible flight of an astronaut to the United States. In this context, the assignment of Vostok 1’s crew and reserve took place just four days before the launch on April 12, two weeks after Bondarenko’s death. He was not included in the top six, which, in addition to Gagarin, included Titov, Nelyubov, Nikolaev, Popovich and Bykovsky.

The tragedy occurred during training in a hyperbaric chamber on March 22, 1961. Astronauts were prepared for the difficult conditions that may arise during the mission. For this, they were locked alone in a small pressure chamber for a long time, so they got used to the closed space. At the same time, the pressure in the compartment was reduced to simulate ascent to a higher altitude.

Bondarenko’s ten-day “prison” was coming to an end, and the conditions in the pressure chamber at that time simulated flight without a pressurized cabin at an altitude of four kilometers. The body can withstand large pressure changes but has strict requirements on the mass of oxygen entering the lungs per minute. Therefore, to compensate for the decrease in air density, testers was promoted The oxygen content in it is up to 40%. However, if for a person the mass of oxygen consumed is important, then for the flame it is the concentration.

“After medical examinations, Bondarenko removed the sensors attached to him, wiped the places to which they were attached with cotton dipped in alcohol and threw them away without looking, falling on the hot spiral of the electric stove.

“In an oxygen-saturated atmosphere, the flame instantly filled the small space of the chamber.” This is the story from 1986 said Soviet space journalist Yaroslav Golovanov in the pages of Izvestia.

This fire caused the overalls worn by the astronaut to catch fire; Under normal conditions, wool burns only slowly, but the increase in oxygen concentration can even ignite steel. “Three people were on duty in the soundproofing room around the clock. Moreover, television cameras were constantly watching what was happening. As soon as they saw that there was a fire inside, they immediately started equalizing the pressure to open the doors. But they were locked. While one was opening, the second… Bondarenko fell into the arms of doctors and said: “Don’t blame anyone, it’s my fault.” said Pyotr Srushchenko is a veteran of the Soviet space program.

Although the burns were not very deep, they covered 90% of the body surface. It is almost impossible to survive with such an anamnesis, and therefore when Bondarenko’s wife Anna visited him in the hospital, he said goodbye to her. Doctors considered a skin transplant, but the astronaut died the next day, March 23.

“From friends of pilot cosmonauts”

Bondarenko’s death led to a review of fire safety rules during testing and people were no longer placed in such a dangerous environment. Since then, not a single astronaut has died or been seriously injured during training. Bondarenko was buried in Kharkov as a military pilot, with no cause of death specified. A note from “friends of cosmonaut pilots” appeared on the tombstone only during Perestroika. Additionally, a crater on the Moon next to Gagarin and Tsiolkovsky craters is named after Bondarenko, and Bondarenko is on the memorial list of fallen space explorers at Cape Canaveral in the United States.

Until the 1980s, the circumstances of the astronaut’s death were kept strictly secret.

Gagarin himself had to lie to the whole world about this. “I can tell you with all responsibility that we have not suffered any human losses in the process of exploring and preparing for space.”

stated Although he personally visited Bondarenko in his hospital bed at a press conference at the UN in 1963. Perhaps partly because of this, a similar incident occurred in the United States a few years later: in 1967, during preparation for the lunar mission, the crew of Apollo 1 was burned, again due to the increased concentration of oxygen on board.

What are you thinking?

The first tragedy in the history of Soviet cosmonautics occurred even before the first flight. Valentin Bondarenko, a member of the first cosmonaut corps created by the decision of the Central Committee on May 22, 1959, died. He did not live to see Gagarin’s flight for two weeks. His death and the circumstances of his death were kept secret for decades, giving rise to myths that Gagarin should be replaced by Bondarenko. Read how the cosmonaut actually died in the article from socialbites.ca.

Source: Gazeta


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