How many astronauts from the first department went into space

The first division of cosmonauts during parachute training
© Museum of Cosmonautics

On March 7, 1960, 12 people entered the first cosmonaut corps, including Yuri Gagarin and Alexei Leonov. Over the next few months, another eight people were admitted to the detachment. But not everyone could complete the preparations and go to extraterrestrial space.

In early 1959, the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union issued a resolution “On strengthening scientific research in the field of medical and biological support for spaceflight”, which instructed several departments to plan research and experimental work at institutes and design agencies. They got to study how weightlessness and other conditions affect a person, manufacture the necessary equipment and prepare a system for selecting and training crew members. Six months later, they decided on a list of necessary equipment and requirements for candidates, and on May 22, they issued a resolution “On the preparation of a manned flight into outer space.”

Only persons who “have high moral and political qualities, who have an adequate level of education and technical training, extensively physically developed and recognized as suitable for spaceflight” could be entered in the first section. During the training, it was necessary to strictly follow the regime, implement the program and report in a timely manner on one’s health. For non-compliance with the rules could be expelled. As a result, four participants were dismissed from the detachment for breach of discipline, and three for health reasons. Another fighter pilot, Valentin Bondarenko, died during a fire in the pressure chamber, where he underwent a ten-day test. He accidentally threw cotton wool soaked in alcohol, which he used to wipe off the sensors, it fell on the electric stove, a fire broke out, Bondarenko’s colleague in the department, twice Soviet hero Andriyan Nikolaev, told Pravda newspaper in 1995.

All other trained specialists went into space, about two or three times. Most of the flights for all members of the detachment were made by Air Force pilots Valery Bykovsky and Viktor Gorbatko.

The only living cosmonaut from the first division, twice Soviet hero Boris Volynov, made two space flights, including in 1969 on the Soyuz-5 spacecraft, when the docking was first performed with another ship, the Soyuz-4. It is true that the return to Earth was not smooth – during the landing Volynov was injured. However, this did not stop him from going the next day with a report on the results of the flight together with his colleagues.


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