Cosmonaut Boris Volynov & a Favorite Comment Posted Half a World Away
You have probably thought to yourself “Wow, I’m having a bad day” Or maybe “Whew, that was close” Or perhaps even “I’m not sure if I’m going to make it…” I ask you to imagine being the cosmonaut Boris Volynov. His story as cosmonaut on the Soyuz 5 mission in 1969 isn’t well known in America but it is simply incredible.
I’m not an astronautical engineer (or even play one on TV!) but even I know the basic physics of spaceship reentry into the atmosphere at the end of a space mission. It is fast. It is hot. It is supposed to be carefully controlled. Boris who was educated at the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy (eventually earning a Ph.D.) certainly knew that and much much more.
Then January 18, 1969 happened.
At the end of a successful mission, the Soyuz 5 was ready to return to Earth with only Boris on board. As the reentry procedure commenced, the service module failed to separate – but it was too late to abort reentry. The spacecraft hit the atmosphere backwards – instead of heat shielding, the relatively weak entry hatch side hitting the atmosphere first. The unshielded hatch started to burn, filling the entry vehicle with dangerous fumes. The intense heat & stress on the craft as it slammed into the atmosphere luckily burned off the problematic service module, allowing the craft to right itself… moments before the hatch would have burned through, instantly incinerating Boris.
But Boris didn’t have time for any celebrations as the spacecraft rapidly approached the surface…
During parachute deployment from the heavily damaged craft, cables became tangled and soft-landing rockets failed – during the resultant “hard landing” (that’s what I call a euphemism!) Boris broke many of his teeth. Getting out of the crash (“any landing you walk away from is a good landing!”) Boris had to walk several miles before he found the nearest shelter. Why shelter? Oh I forgot to mention… it was −38 °C (−36 °F) at his landing site.
Talk about “not being sure if you’ll make it”… But against all odds he survived.
Why am I telling this story? Not only because it is a story of survival & perseverance against all odds (and the dangers of being a 1960’s cosmonaut!) but also because I became familiar with it in a really nice way.
I do a lot of different types of advocacy and interact with fellow patients in many ways but international projects have a special place in my heart. Why? Because Hope and knowledge are infectious and I don’t want them to be only an epidemic… I want them to be a pandemic. The map above shows all of the countries with readership of my English-language site. The map doesn’t include my Russian-language site readership which completely fills in the remainder of the Middle East, Asia and parts of Northern Africa (I’m still working on Africa…).
I love working with my incredible collaborators like Rita (& Anna) to bring the Russian-language version of this blog to Russia and the ZZ team of Zhizhong & Zhihong (and a small army of translators!) to bring the Chinese-language version to China. I skyped earlier today with a potential new CRC collaborator in Argentina which will hopefully soon produce a Spanish-language version for South America and beyond.
One of My Favorite Blog Comments Ever
I love hearing from readers in these & other countries – I have received countless wonderful notes indicating my writing was helping fellow patients – I appreciate & gain energy from all of them! A few days ago, I received one of my favorite blog comments ever– from Marina – written in Russian. The note was translated for me by my Russian collaborator (& now good friend) Rita after it was posted on a Russian website that she uses to distribute the blog. (Distribution in other countries is a major effort beyond simple translation – just ask Zhizhong who uses an internal Chinese server and the WeChat phone text distribution service to reach Chinese readers since American blog websites are blocked there!)
The blog comment was a great note to receive, I pasted the key sections below. I especially like its end! 🙂 Reading it when it arrived on my phone, it instantly hit my heart & picked me up. It is wonderfully written, using the story of Boris Volynov to capture what I try to do, as well as a sentiment applicable to everyone, everywhere. It also captures what a small world we live in and why I love international outreach. I already told Marina she should be writing her own blog!
Thank you Marina for the very nice comment posted half a world away – I really loved its sentiments and I think others will as well. I look forward to that Birthday toast! 🙂
The posted comment (excerpts translated from Russian):
…amazing in the way that he describes everything happening to him and medical science around him as a true scientist and researcher.
Tom’s story reminds me about this: in 1969 the astronaut Boris Volynov experienced a disaster: while landing, something went wrong, the spaceship lost control, caught fire and started tumbling and falling on earth. The astronaut understood that he was going to die in a few minutes. He did not panic, but tried to save the logbook (some say, he even dictated a few records during the fall), hoping that something from the records about his unique experience would remain safe, and in the future engineers will be able to eliminate the cause of the failure. He was thinking about others at that moment, not about himself.
The astronaut survived (because of the explosion, the space capsule detached and was able to somehow land). He is still alive.
This story has its moral – it teaches us that even in a hopeless situation there is always hope, and second, that one should behave gracefully even under most adverse circumstances.
I think that is how Tom behaves – as a true scientist and a courageous person, and I believe that at his 80th birthday party he will be telling his story of beating cancer to his guests – as the story of such heroic, but such remote past.
And now this is a toast! Let’s drink to that…”
Here’s to all of us currently being slammed into the cancer atmosphere finding a similar way to land and find our safe shelter (although hopefully with a “softer” landing than Boris had!).
Boris Volynov – Currently 81 years old
The original Russian comment posted:
Том для меня прямо-таки герой. Множество людей есть, чьим мужеством я восхищаюсь, в том числе и здесь.
Но Том прекрасен еще и тем, что описывает все происходящее с ним и с медициной вокруг него как настоящий ученый и настоящий исследователь.
Его случай напоминает мне такую историю: в 1969 с космонавтом Борисом Волыновым произошла беда: во время посадки что-то пошло не так, корабль потерял управление и стал, кувыркаясь и горя, падать на землю. Космонавт понял, что через несколько минут он погибнет. Он не запаниковал, а постарался сохранить бортовой журнал (по некоторым версиям, даже надиктовывал какие-то записи во время падения), в надежде, что что-то из записей о его уникальном опыте сохранится и в будущем инженеры смогут устранить причину неполадки. Он в такой момент думал о других, а не о себе.
Космонавт выжил (в результате взрыва капсула спускаемого аппарата все-таки отсоединилась и смогла кое-как приземлиться). Он жив до сих пор.
Эта история получилась с моралью – она нас учит, что даже, казалось бы, безнадежном положении надежда есть, а во-вторых, что нужно вести себя достойно в самых тяжелых обстоятельствах.
Мне кажется, именно так ведет себя Том – как настоящий ученый и мужественный человек, и я верю, что он на своем 80-летии будет рассказывать гостям свою историю борьбы с раком, как о героическом, но таком далеком прошлом.
А теперь это тост! Так выпьем же…