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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Hero of the Soviet Union and Cosmonaut Dies.

Hero of the Soviet Union experiments with microgravity

Pavel Popovich passed away today at age 78. He came very close to being selected to be the first man in space, but Yuri Gagarin was selected instead.

Instead, Popovich went up alone in Vostok 4 in August 1962. At the same time, the USSR launched Vostok 3 and Andrian Nikolayev. Their capsules passed within 3 miles, and they spotted each other. Popovich thus became the 6th person to orbit the Earth. His mission ended after three days when the capsule interior temperature failed. After de-orbit burn, he parachuted from the capsule as was custom for that model.

Popovich flew his second mission in Soyuz 14 on July 3, 1974. After docking with the Salyut 3 military space station, he and fellow cosmonaut Yuri Artyukhin spent 16 days performing classified military objectives. For his space adventures and service in the Soviet Air Force as a decorated Major General, he was twice awarded the Order of Hero of the Soviet Union, the USSR's highest honor.

But why focus on this cosmonaut? Well, for one, I've met him.

In October 2005, Salt Lake City was host to the XIX Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. Our staff and volunteers of the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center not only attended, but were privileged to perform the International Flag parade during the opening ceremonies. Before and after the event, we were able to meet with many astronauts and cosmonauts from around the world. Did I get a slew of autographs? You betcha! After the morning ceremonies, the space explorers split up to visit Utah schools around the state. We were privileged to be visited by Pavel Popovich and Viktor Savinykh (more on him in another post perhaps).

Cosmonaut Popovich inspects the USS Phoenix simulator. Behind him
is Cosmonaut Viktor Savinykh.

Besides being able to visit our school's students, the cosmonauts also toured the Space Center and were very impressed. In one of the photos I took, you can see Pavel Popovich sitting iin the command chair of the USS Phoenix simulator soon after it had opened. SOOOO, for those of you who manage to rise to the rare command of the Phoenix, you, too, can sit in the same chair as occupied by a great space explorer and Hero of the Soviet Union.

By Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator
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