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Konstantin Feoktistov, spacecraft designer and first scientist in space, dies at 83

Konstantin Feoktistov, right, with his Voskhod 1 crew mates Vladimir Komarov, and Boris Yegorov make their way to the launch pad on Oct. 12, 1964, sans spacesuits. (Credit: NASA)
November 22, 2009 — A member of the first three-person space crew whose flight was onboard a vehicle he helped design, cosmonaut Konstantin Feoktistov passed away at age 83 on Saturday, Nov. 21, according to a statement by the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

Feoktistov made his first and only space flight on Oct. 12, 1964 aboard the USSR's Voskhod 1 on a one-day mission to test the craft's design, perform biomedical research and to study how a multi-disciplinary team could work together in space.

Marking the first time that more than one person, let alone three, were launched to orbit together, Voskhod 1's trio of crew members included Feoktistov, the first scientist to fly; Boris Yegorov, the first medical doctor in space; and Vladimir Komarov, who later would become the first to fly to space twice and tragically the first to die during a space mission.

Voskhod 1, which established an altitude record of 209 miles (336 km), was also notable for being the first space flight to not include spacesuits for its crew, an idea that history records was first put forth by Feoktistov.

Credited as only second to Chief Designer Sergei Korolev in the development of the world's first manned spacecraft, Feoktistov initially opposed the idea of adapting Vostok for a three-person crew, calling the idea unsafe. His stated objections were all but abandoned however, after Korolev suggested that Feoktistov might fill that third seat.

"Well, that was a very seductive offer," Feoktistov said in a 1991 interview with the U.S. television series NOVA. "A few days later we produced some rough sketches [and] our first ideas were accepted."

The decision to omit spacesuits for the crew and remove the ejection seats used during the one-man Vostok flights was driven by logistics: three suited cosmonauts would simply not fit within the spacecraft.

Fortunately, Voskhod 1 proceeded without incident as had there been an inflight emergency, there were no means of escape for the crew.

Feoktistov and Yegorov, the first civilians in space whose training was shorter than prior cosmonauts, were initially disoriented by the microgravity environment but recovered before the end of the 16-orbit mission.

All three men became a bit disoriented after landing by the political landscape waiting for them on the ground. Despite having talked with Nikita Khrushchev during their third turn about the Earth, by the time they had touched down, the Soviet Premier had been removed from power, replaced by a trio of leaders.

Feoktistov would later recount the highlights of his flight to authors Colin Burgess and Francis French for their book, "Into That Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961-1965," published in 2007. He listed "the rising and setting of the sun; the observation of layers of brightness above the horizon before the ship would leave the shadow of the Earth; and the fast moving, recognizable but very unusual colorful map of the Earth's surface."

After his flight, Feoktistov continued his previous work as a spacecraft designer, contributing to the development of the Soyuz spacecraft, working on the technology needed to accomplish rendezvous and docking, as well as setting its dimensions.

He campaigned to fly on the second Soyuz mission, after the first suffered a parachute failure taking the life of his Voskhod 1 commander Vladimir Komarov, but his efforts were rebutted by Nikolai Kamanin, the head of cosmonaut training, who declared Feoktistov didn't meet the physical standards for a pilot.

Feoktistov then turned his attention to the growing debate within the Soviet Union's space program to pursue a moon landing or develop a space station.

"In the 1960s, it was clear to us engineers that the most important development for manned flights would be the creation of orbital space stations," he told NOVA, "but the administration was against it."

"We didn't know how to get the bosses to change their minds," he continued, "but some well-wishers in the Party Central Committee cunningly inserted a passage into [the General Secretary Leonid] Brezhnev's speech saying that orbital stations promised the right way forward."

Feoktistov went to work on the design of the Salyut space station, aiming to fly aboard one himself. Initially refused again, he worked as a flight controller until finally in 1980, he was assigned to the Soyuz T-3 mission and the 13th expedition crew for the Salyut 6 station.

He would come within just a few days of launching when he was grounded due to medical problems.

"The Voskhod venture opened a door to outer space," he told a Russian TV journalist in 2001," and I hoped to walk through that door once again on a serious and longer space mission."

"Life has, however, rewritten my plans," said Feoktistov.

Konstantin Feoktistov (Credit:
Born on February 7, 1926 in Voronezh, Russia, Konstantin Petrovich Feoktistov became interested in astronomy and space exploration as a child but almost never lived to see his dreams of flying in space become a reality.

In 1942, Feoktistov, 16, was captured by the Wehrmacht German patrol and dragged to a courtyard filled with other Russian resistance scouts and soldiers. Shot and left for dead in a body-filled trench, Feoktistov fortunately had only been grazed on the throat and was able to crawl to rejoin his unit after the fall of darkness.

After recuperating from his wounds, Feoktistov reported to the Bauman Higher Technical School in Moscow, where he graduated in 1949 and went to work as an engineer.

Ultimately receiving his doctorate in physics, Feoktistov joined Korolev's OKB-1 design bureau in 1955, where he was involved in the Sputnik program and the development of manned spacecraft.

Selected to join the cosmonaut corps in 1964, he was the only Soviet space explorer who was not a member of the Communist Party.

Leaving the cosmonaut corps in 1987, Feoktistov served as the deputy chief designer for the aerospace contractor RSC Energia before retiring from the space program in 1990 and returning to Bauman Higher Technical School as a professor.

Awarded the status of Hero of the Soviet Union in 1964, Feoktistov was honored with the naming of small crater on the far side of the Moon.

He is survived by his wife and four children.

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