In 1957, at the height of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, the "Space Race" began, sending the battle between the two world superpowers for technological dominance soaring into the heavens. Both countries attempted to launch the first space satellites that year and at first, the Soviet Union was much more successful. A rocket made by the US failed upon launch, while the Soviet Union's unmanned satellite, Sputnik I, successfully orbited Earth. In 1961, the Soviets were successful again — cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man ever to orbit the Earth. But nobody had yet set foot on or even orbited the moon. Following the 1967 Apollo mission disaster in the US which was a major setback for the country's space program, the Soviet Union was eager to best its rival by sending a man to orbit the moon and hastily announced its Soyuz mission which launched only a few months later. It would prove to be a fatal mistake.
How much of what is known today about the 1967 death of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov and the crash of Soyuz 1 is still up for debate. There are controversial accounts about the incident, stemming from the secrecy surrounding the Cold War's Kremlin: they all paint a tragic portrait of a brilliant cosmonaut, but some reports argue he may have died at the hands of his own government. Were important details were covered up that may have caused a rushed but faulty launch? The most chilling speculation, though, is what happened during the last moments inside Soyuz 1 and what Komarov's last words really were — was he in despair over his fate or did he still have hope he would make it out alive?
Nevertheless, Soyuz 1 was pushed into launch before it was ready and Komarov did not make it out alive. The "Space Race," which was so winnable in the hands of the Soviets (who had a lot of "firsts" in its earlier years), was now set to be won by the United States. In the earliest days of space exploration before moon walking, international space stations, and yes, the horrible Challenger disaster, the story of Soyuz 1 is a true time capsule to the mythos of the Cold War's race to space.