The pioneering cosmonaut who dreamed of interstellar flight.
- By Tony Reichhardt
- AirSpaceMag.com, December 18, 2009
Image from the files of Peter Gorin
(Page 2 of 2)
Science fiction writers also have imagined beaming our personalities, rather than our bodies, to the stars, and at the time of Feoktistov’s talk, futurists like Hans Moravec of Carnegie Mellon University were already theorizing about a day when our digital selves might be downloaded into robots. I’ll leave the practicalities of that to artificial intelligence experts and philosophers. But the fact that Konstantin Feoktistov gave it serious thought is fascinating.
He was the Soviet counterpart to Max Faget, the genius who designed NASA’s Mercury capsule. But unlike Faget, Feoktistov traveled into space in one of his own creations. In an attempt to upstage NASA’s planned two-man Gemini flights, the Soviets decided in 1964 to launch the first three-man crew by modifying the tiny Vostok. Feoktistov was among the engineers who argued that it was unsafe to cram three people into a capsule built for one. His boss, chief designer Sergei Korolev, told him that if the engineers made it happen, Feoktistov could go along on the flight. And they did. Feoktistov himself came up with the risky solution: leave behind the cosmonauts’ spacesuits and ejection seats. On October 12, 1964, the Vostok designer, along with military pilot Vladimir Komarov and medical doctor Boris Yegorov, climbed inside Voskhod 1 wearing little more than street clothes and set off on one of the most daring spaceflights in history.
It wasn’t the first time Feoktistov faced death. As a 16-year-old in the Russian army during World War II, he had been captured by Germans, shot, and left for dead in a pit full of bodies. He was only wounded, miraculously, and he escaped back to Russia to complete his engineering education.
Feoktistov was reportedly a difficult personality, socially polite but stubborn when it came to arguments on technical matters. He never joined the Communist Party, rare for a cosmonaut of his generation. He was a clever and skilled engineer—he later played a lead role in designing the first Salyut space stations—but also a visionary. In 1960, even before Gagarin’s first flight, he worked up detailed plans for a manned Mars mission.
And late in life, he dreamed of starflight. His design, as always, was elegant, the simplest practical solution to the problem. I wish I’d spent more time talking to him on that day 22 years ago. If we ever do make it to the stars, or if our disembodied personalities make it, I propose that the transmitting antennas be named Feoktistov in his honor.