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