Man and space: after the disaster

Original author: Matt Frassica
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In a dark photograph, a man, in profile, looks out the window, blinded by bright light. On the face is a long dark stubble, almost a beard. He is not a criminal lying at the bottom in a roadside hotel and watching the parking lot. He is an astronaut. This is clear from the window, which is in the picture above. Unusually, the arrangement of zippers and pockets on a man's white jacket. There is a microphone on his neck, which you can usually see in call centers. There is still a window in the background, from a different angle. (We are in the command compartment, the walls here are concave.) It can be seen that the glass is very thick and is framed by a bright yellow seal.

The first thing that catches your eye is the excellent quality of the picture. Even at maximum magnification, sharpness is not lost, there is almost no noise. With such a contrast of dark areas with bright light, it is difficult to set the correct exposure, but the photographer still managed to capture a wide range of tones, slightly overexposing only the face of an astronaut. The colors of the Kodachrome film are fascinating. Darkness consists of saddening purple hues and occupies most of the picture. The man's name is Walter Shirra.

Our attention switches to his face - gloomy, wary, with a shadow of hopelessness. Just like my father’s face while driving in the predawn darkness: we drive somewhere, he is silent and does not look at me. I see his face a little below, he thinks aloud about something.

You may note that Shirra is not smiling. There is not a drop of joy or optimism on his face that astronauts usually try to portray in front of the camera. On almost all space portraits, we see only positive emotions. Here is one astronaut, despite the complexity of the mission, fooling around in zero gravity. Here is another one looking at our planet from above - and we immediately feel the hope for a brighter future, that someday people will forget about personal interests and will live in peace and harmony.

But this photo is not like that. On it, the astronaut seems to be a sailor who has survived thousands of storms, like Odysseus or Captain Ahab: he is wounded, obsessed, merciless and determined. And beneath the seat, he could well lie a cobby bottle of bourbon. And he seems to be regularly lacking sleep.

Apollo 7 is the third and final mission of this astronaut. Shirra is the only one who participated in three programs: Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. During this flight, he fell very cold right in orbit, became irritable and spoke roughly with two other crew members and the mission control center. His mood was passed on to the rest, the atmosphere in the command compartment was heated. This picture was taken the day before the end of the 10-day mission.

Apollo 7 - the first manned flight after the crash of Apollo 1. Then, on January 27, 1967, while preparing for a flight in the command compartment, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee burned down alive. Thanks to high pressure and pure oxygen, instead of ordinary air, everything from Velcro to aluminum suddenly became flammable. Astronauts warned of the risk of fire and complained that the hatch that opened inside did not lend itself when the pressure inside the ship was higher than outside. On January 27, Shirra was part of a backup crew. After one of his past trials, he said: “At first glance, the ship is fine, but I still feel uneasy in it.”

On the day of the disaster, rescuers opened the hatch in five minutes. The NASA report said: "Specialists who opened the hatches failed to find crew members." When the smoke cleared, firefighters found astronauts. Their spacesuits and oxygen masks so melted that it took only an hour and a half to separate the bodies from the cab.

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