Space Pioneer Tells of Life on Earth
- By Adam Tanner
- May. 01 1999 00:00
Men like cosmonaut German Titov, whose space experience dates back longer than any living man, were the Soviet Union's walking gods, pioneers of the great Communist future who crushed the ants of the capitalist West.
Looking back today, Titov, the second cosmonaut in space, recalls that even such mighty heroes suffered the indignities of Soviet rules f such as the time a folder containing a multitude of identity passes went missing from his car in 1963.
Such passes provided access to numerous secret institutes and halls of power, and the legendary father of the Soviet rocket program, Sergei Korolyov, scolded him personally for this episode of carelessness.
"Korolyov told me what he thought of me, how I was slovenly and not serious enough," Titov, now 63, said in a two-hour interview on his career. "He said 'I'll write you new passes, but if you lose them, you'll go to jail.'"
Titov, who was the back up for first man in space Yury Gagarin in 1961, flew less than four months later, becoming the first human to spend 24 hours in orbit. Gagarin, Titov and 18 other young men made up the original class of cosmonauts engaged in competition with the United States in the race to space.
Yet the Soviet leadership decided that four of their carefully chosen men did not have the right stuff after all.
Officials airbrushed their faces out of early cosmonaut photos and their fate was among the Cold War's unanswered questions.
Titov now acknowledges he was indirectly involved in the dismissal of three of these cosmonauts, Ivan Anikeyev, Valentin Filatyev and Grigory Nelyubov, when he was acting head of the group while Gagarin was away on a trip. They were dismissed after leaving their air force base one Sunday in 1963 to drink some beers, he said.
A fourth man of the original class, Mars Rafikov, was dismissed for "violations of military discipline" in 1962, which Titov said was really because he had got divorced.
Titov, now a member of Russia's lower house of parliament, said that as a celebrated "hero" cosmonaut he saw and let pass many possibilities with women himself. "Of course, there was a plethora of opportunities," he said. "But I had to limit myself. It would be one thing as a simple pilot, but not for a cosmonaut, because of the reputation."
Titov said he didn't always "stir warm feelings" in the Soviet leadership.
"I wasn't a very convenient person for the leadership. I had my own opinion about things and knew how to insist on this," he said.
On one occasion after his space flight, Titov broke protocol while in an official motorcade in Romania, riding on an escort's motorbike rather than the fancy car provided.
"There was a price to pay. They were not happy," he said with a laugh. "It was a thing of youth."
Yet the legend of Titov would always be overshadowed by Gagarin.
Of the original class of 20, Soviet planners picked six men for intensive preparations for the first flight into space in April 1961. Then it became clear either Gagarin or Titov would pioneer man's adventure into space.
Two days before the April 12 flight the authorities informed them that Gagarin would make the flight.
The enormity of Gagarin's flight only hit Titov two days later.
"The historical significance became clear only on April 14 when we were invited on to Red Square and I saw the ocean of people screaming, smiling, all happy, singing songs," he said.
Titov's own flight in August 1961, following two suborbital U.S. flights, set several of his own milestones. He was the first to sleep in space during his 24-hour journey, and the first to experience space sickness f which he hid from Mission Control until his return.
He says he is proud of his subsequent career as a top official in Soviet military space forces, a twist in fate he said he did not expect when he first flew.
"We thought our careers as cosmonauts f we were young then f would end with a flight to Mars," he said. "But you see life has made some course corrections."