In the early hours of 30 June 1971, the Soviet Union prepared to welcome its three latest cosmonaut heroes back to Earth after a record-breaking mission. Not only had the Soyuz 11 team—Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev—spent more than 23 days in orbit, but they had also successfully occupied the world’s first true space station. It was a fitting response to the U.S. achievement of placing a man on the Moon. As the commander of one of the recovery helicopters spotted the parachute of Soyuz 11’s descent module, it was a glorious sight. The helicopters touched down and the would-be rescuers made their way cheerfully to the spacecraft, still superheated and charred from re-entry. They could not have anticipated the horror that they would find inside. All three cosmonauts lay dead in their seats, with blue splotches on their faces and blood trickling from their noses and ears. On June 30, 1971, humankind was forced to grapple with the first — and so far only — deaths to occur in space.
Credit The Space Race