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(Image from the files of Peter Gorin)

Feoktistov's Starship

The pioneering cosmonaut who dreamed of interstellar flight.


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.

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