Alexander Soldatenkov, a top Russian rocket designer who worked on the mission that made Yury Gagarin the first man in space, has died at 86, the space industry plant where he worked said.
Soldatenkov died on Sunday in the Volga city of Samara, the TsSKB-Progress spaceship construction plant said in a statement.
The space industry veteran was a member of the team headed by the brilliant designer Sergei Korolyov that sent Gagarin into space in the first manned flight in 1961.
He later worked on Soyuz-2 carrier rockets as well as modifications of the early Soviet R-7 rockets.
He was deputy head designer at the Soviet space construction bureau and then at its post-Soviet equivalent, TsSKB-Progress, from 1985 to 2006.
Soldatenkov was the technical director for around 1,000 carrier rocket launches, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Cosmonaut Vladimir Titov told RIA Novosti that Soldatenkov helped save his life in 1983 when he instructed Titov and another cosmonauts preparing for blast-off to eject from their capsule on the landing pad seconds before it exploded in a fire.
Soldatenkov was awarded the top honours by the Soviet regime: the State prize, the Lenin Prize and the title Hero of Socialist Labour.
Russia's space programme has recently suffered a serious of embarrassing failures with satellites and an unmanned cargo ship crashing to the ground, damaging public pride in an industry where Moscow once led the world.
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