March 23, 1961 – Cosmonaut dies in fiery simulator in Moscow
Russian cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko (1937 – 1961) died in a simulator that was filled with pure oxygen on March 23, 1961. His simulator environment caught fire after he carelessly discarded an alcohol cotton ball onto an electric hot plate. Fellow cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin spent many hours at Bondarenko’s bedside before he died of 3rd degree burns.
“The circumstances of Bondarenko’s death were similar to those befalling the crew of the Apollo 1 and there has been much speculation that if the Soviets had been open about the tragedy NASA may have been alerted to the hazardous design of the early Apollo command module and made changes which could have prevented the deaths of the three Apollo 1 crewmembers in 1967. However, by then the lethal hazards of a 100% oxygen environment had been thoroughly described in American scientific publications.”
Quote by Yuri Gagarin:
“The path of a cosmonaut is not an easy, triumphant march to glory. You have to get to know the meaning not just of joy but also of grief, before being allowed in the spacecraft cabin.”
– Quoted in Into That Silent Sea (p. 16), speaking of fellow cosmonaut’s Valentin Bondarenko fiery death in a spacecraft test.