Although Vladimir Komarov’s solo space flight was drawing to its close, the mission had been anything but an easy one. Indeed, after the launch from the Soviet Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 23, 1967, Komarov’s craft had been plagued by serious technical problems. But then, after nearly 27 hours in space and 18 completed orbits of Earth, the Russian astronaut was heading back home.
Komarov’s flight aboard the Soyuz I had come at a time when the Soviet Union and the U.S. were locked in a battle for supremacy in space – in what came to be known as the Space Race. The Cold War – an intense conflict between the opposing ideologies of communism and capitalism – was at its height, and the Space Race was arguably a by-product of that clash of belief systems.
The Soviets had taken the initial major honors in the Space Race when, in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit Earth, in the Vostok I spacecraft. Gagarin and Komarov were in fact close friends, and Gagarin would have been the man aboard Soyuz I if for some reason Komarov had been unable to fly.