A Brief History of Soyuz 1, Russia's First Crewed Soyuz Spacecraft

Getty Images
Getty Images

On April 23, 1967, the Soviet space program launched its first-ever Soyuz spacecraft with a person in it. The flight was plagued with technical problems and ended in tragedy. But more 50 years later, we're still using descendants of the Soyuz to ferry people and supplies to and from space, most notably the International Space Station. The Soyuz rocket is, by far, the most used and most reliable space launch system humans have ever built. Unfortunately the first Soyuz pilot didn't survive.

Soyuz 1's pilot was cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet test pilot and engineer who had previous experience in space. His voyage on the mission made him the first Soviet cosmonaut to make a second trip into space. He also became the first person to die on a space mission.

The tragedy of Soyuz 1 started with political pressure. Soviet leaders apparently wanted to celebrate Lenin's April 22 birthday with the Soyuz launch. They were also keen to beat the Americans to the moon, and the Soyuz program was akin to NASA's Apollo—aimed at an eventual lunar landing. Apollo was suffering, as the Apollo 1 crew had died that January on the ground in a terrible fire. If the Soviets could get Soyuz running, it would be a massive leap. Despite many technical setbacks on the ground, Soviet leaders pushed for Soyuz 1 to launch.

While cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (the first human in orbit) was listed as Komarov's backup pilot, there was no way Soviet leaders would allow a national treasure to risk his life in space again. So in a practical sense, either Komarov launched or the mission would be scrubbed. He launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome just after midnight UTC (just after 3:30am Moscow time).

The problems started early. One of the Soyuz craft's two solar panels failed to deploy, leaving the vessel power-starved. The craft's automatic stabilization system was blocked by the failed solar panel, leaving Komarov trying to manually control the orientation of the craft. It didn't work well.

Meanwhile, a secret second Soyuz mission was preparing to launch, carrying three cosmonauts. Mission planners wanted the two craft to meet in space and dock via an EVA. But storms at Baikonur caused mission control to call off the second flight. By Komarov's 13th orbit, directors on the ground decided to end the Soyuz 1 mission early and bring Komarov home.

Komarov tried to descend on his 17th orbit, but the attitude control system fouled up his angle, forcing him to remain in orbit. By his 19th orbit—really his last chance, with dwindling battery power—Komarov reentered the Earth's atmosphere, relying in large part on manual attitude control. He made it work, entering on a viable trajectory. The first ("drogue") parachute deployed, slowing his descent a bit ... but the primary parachute failed to deploy. Komarov manually activated a backup parachute, which tangled with the drogue. With nearly nothing to slow its fall, the Soyuz capsule hit the Earth, killing Komarov instantly.

Komarov's name was included on a commemorative plaque left on the Moon during the 1971 Apollo 15 landing. The plaque honored 14 astronauts and cosmonauts (including the Apollo 1 crew) who died in the pursuit of space.

The tragedy of Soyuz 1 was a huge setback for the Soviet space program, but it wasn't the end of the Soyuz missions. Design flaws were uncovered and fixed, and eventually the Soviet space program had a reliable launch and recovery system. We still use it today. For a look at the modern Soyuz launch system, check out this ESA video:

These Rugged Steel-Toe Boots Look and Feel Like Summer Sneakers

Indestructible Shoes
Indestructible Shoes

Thanks to new, high-tech materials, our favorite shoes are lighter and more comfortable than ever. Unfortunately, one thing most sneakers are not is durable. They can’t protect your feet from the rain, let alone heavy objects. Luckily, as their name implies, Indestructible Shoes has come up with a line of steel-toe boots that look and feel like regular sneakers.

Made to be incredibly strong but still lightweight, every pair of Indestructible Shoes has steel toes, skid-proof grips, and shock-absorption technology. But they don't look clunky or bulky, which makes them suitable whether you're going to work, the gym, or a family gathering.

The Hummer is Indestructible Shoes’s most well-rounded model. It features European steel toes to protect your feet, while the durable "flymesh" material wicks moisture to keep your feet feeling fresh. The insole features 3D arch support and extra padding in the heel cup. And the outsole features additional padding that distributes weight and helps your body withstand strain.

Indestructible Shoes Hummer.
The Hummer from Indestructible Shoes.
Indestructible Shoes

There’s also the Xciter, Indestructible Shoes’s latest design. The company prioritized comfort for this model, with the same steel toes as the Hummer, but with additional extra-large, no-slip outsoles capable of gripping even smooth, slippery surfaces—like, say, a boat deck. The upper is made of breathable moisture-wicking flymesh to help keep your feet dry in the rain or if you're wearing them on the water.

If you want a more breathable shoe for the peak summer months, there's the Ryder. This shoe is designed to be a stylish solution to the problem of sweaty feet, thanks to a breathable mesh that maximizes airflow and minimizes sweat and odor. Meanwhile, extra padding in the midsole will keep your feet protected.

You can get 44 percent off all styles if you order today.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

NASA Names Washington, D.C., Headquarters After ‘Hidden Figure’ Mary Jackson

Mary W. Jackson at NASA in 1980.
Mary W. Jackson at NASA in 1980.
Adam Cuerden, NASA Langley Research Center, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In the past, NASA’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C., was simply known as “NASA Headquarters” or “Two Independence Square” (the name of that particular piece of real estate). This week, the agency officially named it the “Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters,” after NASA’s first Black female engineer.

Jackson worked as a math teacher and U.S. Army Secretary before NASA—called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at the time—recruited her as a research mathematician for its segregated West Area Computing Unit in 1951. After completing a training program in 1958 (which she needed special permission to attend, since it took place at a whites-only high school), she was promoted to engineer.

In the following decades, Jackson studied wind tunnels and air behavior around aircraft, and she was also instrumental in helping the U.S. pull forward in the Space Race of the 1960s. But Jackson’s legacy goes beyond her own engineering efforts: Between 1979 and 1985, she participated in the Federal Women’s Program at NASA’s Langley Research Center, where she advocated for the hiring and promotion of more female scientists.

mary jackson with young female scientists in 1983
Jackson with a group of young scientists and mathematicians in 1983.

“Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a press release. “Mary never accepted the status quo; she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology.”

Jackson died in 2005, and her story was largely unknown until the release of Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book Hidden Figures and subsequent film of the same name, which chronicled the contributions of Jackson and her colleagues Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden. In 2019, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to rename the part of E Street SW where NASA’s headquarters is located to Hidden Figures Way, and the women were also awarded Congressional Gold Medals.

NASA headquarters
The Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“We are honored that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson,” Jackson’s daughter Carolyn Lewis said in the press release. “She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA, but throughout this nation.”