Did You Know: First Soviet Cosmonauts Were Avid Skiers. Two Of Them Had To Use Skiing Skills In Dire Emergency

… The first Soviet cosmonauts were men of iron health, selected among hundreds upon hundreds of young airforce pilots.

And, as a part of their space launch training,  they had to ski. A lot.

In part because the guy in charge of their training, the guy who was ultimately deciding who gets to go into space and who stays on Earth, general Nikolai Kamanin, was the most avid skier himself.

Lt.-General Nikolai Kamanin and his most famous ” employee”, Earth’s first spaceman Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin was very decent skier on his own right – although he preferred water skiing

Kamanin was a famed Arctic aviator in his youth – that’s where he developed affection for cross country skiing.  That interest in the snow sport/recreation remained with him throughout life.  His diaries are full of notes such as “Did 30k on skis in the morning…skied 40k …Did only 25k as it was extremely cold today” – all the while overseeing the future Soviet spacemen & women.

But extensive ski training wasn’t just about cardiovascular health and fitness for “kosmonavty”. Unlike contemporary US Gemini capsules that were landing on water, Soviet Vostok and Voskhod spacecrafts were meant to land on hard Earth. Which could have meant lots of snow in Russian realities.

That’s exactly what happened to the crew of Voskhod 2, Pavel Belyayev and Alexei Leonov. After an extremely dramatic space mission that featured humanity’s first spacewalk and heavy G-forces landing trajectory, two cosmonauts ended up in the Siberian forest snowed over so deep, that landing a helicopter anywhere near was out of question.

The rescuers had to jump from a hovering craft and ski for miles to reach the two stranded cosmonauts, then after some rest, Belyaev and Leonov had to put on the planks themselves and to ski to the spot where the helicopter managed to land.

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You see that very moment in the 1965 documentary at approx. 14’07”

While ski training is not as intensive as once was for contemporary Russian cosmonauts ( and NASA and ESA astronauts flying on Soyuz spacecrafts, the only manned space-goer the humanity has since 2011), requirements for applying to become a spaceman or woman clearly state: “must do 5k on skis under 21 minute”. If you want to go to the stars, you have to learn how to handle snow first!

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