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Soyuz cosmonaut Gennady Strekalov dies

Gennady Strekalov plays guitar and sings with Charlie Precourt and Bonnie Dunbar aboard the Mir space station. (NASA)
December 25, 2004

— Gennady Strekalov, 64, a veteran cosmonaut who flew five times to space and survived the first Soviet launch pad abort, died today of cancer in the Kremlin hospital, Moscow, according to a report posted to the magazine Novosti Kosmonavtiki's website.

After joining the 1973 cosmonaut group and working for several years as a ground controller, Stekalov made his first spaceflight on Soyuz T-3, the first Soviet mission to resume flying three member crews after the loss of the Soyuz 11 crew nine years earlier. In December 1980, the T-3 cosmonauts — Strekalov, Leonid Kizim and the late Oleg Makarov — embarked on 13 day flight to the Salyut 6 space station to perform needed repairs.

Strekalov's next mission was to have been an extended duration eight-month expedition to the Salyut 7 station but after launching in April 1983, he, Alexander Serebrov and Vladimir Titov discovered that their Soyuz T-8's radar had failed and, unable to dock, returned to Earth.

Strekalov and Titov tried again to reach the space station five months later aboard Soyuz T-10, but a fire on the pad cost the mission and almost their lives. Ninety seconds before launch, flight controllers activated their capsule's escape tower and the two cosmonauts were pulled away from the flame-engulfed rocket, though at a jolt that was equivalent to 20 times the normal pull of gravity. The two were subsequently grounded for medical evaluations after their high-G abort.

Half a year passed before Strekalov had his next chance to fly, taking the seat of an ailing member of the Soyuz T-11 crew. Finally aboard Salyut 7, Strekalov returned eight days later on the Soviet-Indian mission.

Strekalov's fourth launch came five years later in August 1990, on a mission to the Mir space station. The Soyuz TM-10 crew's two 'Gennadis' — Strekalov and Commander Manakov — worked in space for 130 days, which included an EVA to repair a module's hatch, before reentering the Earth's atmosphere along with visiting Japanese journalist Toyohiro Akiyama.

In March 1995, Strekalov launched on his fifth and final trip to space on the first Russian Soyuz launch to include an American as part of the crew. With astronaut Norman Thagard and Commander Vladimir Dezhurov, Strekalov returned to the Mir space station for a 115 day stay that marked the beginning of Phase One of the International Space Station program. Streklov went on five spacewalks during the mission, which ended with a return aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-71).

Strekalov ended his spaceflight career having spent 269 days spent in space.

Gennady Mikhailovich Strekalov was born on October 28, 1940, and after completing secondary school, worked as an apprentice in the same factory that built Sputnik 1. He graduated from Bauman Higher Technical School in 1965 and began work immediately at the Korolev design bureau taking part in the development of the Soyuz spacecraft.

In addition to the missions he flew, Strekalov served as a back-up crew member for five Soyuz missions. Since 1985, he also led the cosmonaut detachment from RSC Energia, where he was a department head and instructor.

Strekalov is survived by his wife and their two daughters. A funeral has been set for December 28 at Ostankinsko cemetery in Moscow, according to Novosti Kosmonavtiki.

Biographical information used in this article was adapted and excerpted with permission from Who's Who in Space: The First 25 Years by Michael Cassutt.

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