Monday, 9 March 2009

Komarov's cabin

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J.G. Ballard
The Atrocity Exhibition
A New Algebra

The Russian astronaut Col. Komarov was the first man to die in space, though earlier fatalities had been rumoured. Komarov is reported to have panicked when his space-craft began to tumble uncontrollably, but the transcripts of his final transmissions have never been released. I'm sceptical of what may be NASA-inspired disinformation. The courage of professional flight-crews under extreme pressure is clearly shown in The Black Box, edited by Malcolm MacPherson, which contains cockpit voice-recorder transcripts in the last moments before airliner crashes. The supreme courage and stoicism shown by these men and women in the final seconds running up to their deaths, as they wrestle with the collapsing systems of their stricken aircraft, is a fine memorial to them, and a powerful argument for equal frankness in other areas.

Just before impact, Soviet premier Alexey Kosygin told Komarov his country was proud of him. An American National Security Agency listening post in Istanbul noted Komarov's reply was inaudible, though persistent rumours stated that Komarov died cursing the spacecraft designers and flight controllers. Whatever the truth of the matter, a tape from a West German tracking station bearing some of Komarov's brief phrases was forwarded to the Command-Measurement Complex of the Soviet Union after the disaster and was reported to contain the word "killed", mixed in with Komarov's distraught unclear transmissions, among other flight data recorded on radio by the West Germans. The recording was made, apparently, on one of the last orbits, if not the final one.

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