A propaganda machine

But beneath the spotlight of success was another story that would not emerge for some time. The Soviet space programme, while brilliant in its execution, was becoming something of a sham, completely at the mercy of powerful, politically-driven manipulators, who were turning its very success into an orgy of propaganda. While flying headline-grabbing space spectaculars with ostensible ease, the Soviet Union was in fact stretching its technological capabilities and resources to the limit.

The safe return of three cosmonauts in their "new and spacious" Voskhod spacecraft would garner international acclaim and immense propaganda for the Soviet Union, but the history-making space flight would one day attract justifiable criticism. While words such as "reckless" and "hazardous" would later be used to address the first manned flight of the Voskhod spacecraft, it was a space mission that created history at a time when the world was in awe of each new space spectacular. It was, after all, a phenomenal era of national one-upmanship and governmental urgency in a rapidly accelerating effort to become the predominant space nation.

Seven years later, in 1971, the Soviets would try to emulate the incredible flight of the first Voskhod spacecraft, but this time it would lead to the tragic deaths of three cosmonauts. In 1991, Korolyov's deputy, Vasily Mishin, spoke about the hazards associated with the flight of Voskhod 1. "Was it risky? Of course it was. It was as if there was a three-seater craft and, at the same time, there wasn't. In fact it was a circus act, for three people couldn't do any useful work in space. They were cramped, just sitting - not to mention that it was dangerous to fly.''

Just as Sergey Korolyov would recognise that there was a place for scientists and physicians aboard multi-person Soviet crews, there were rumblings in the United States by the scientific community for a presence on NASA flights. But as the world heard about the first physician and first aerospace engineer travelling aboard a three-man spacecraft, the National Academy of Sciences and the NASA Space Science Board were just a week away from announcing that they were seeking applications for astronaut candidates who were holders of a PhD, or the equivalent in natural science, medicine, or engineering. Yet again, with the successful but highly dangerous flight of the first Voskhod spacecraft, American technology and NASA had been figuratively pipped at the post.

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