Travelling to space is an extremely risky proposition. We may have got better at it over the years but the calculations required to reach your required destination are intricate and exacting, and the reliance on the machinery around you is absolute.
Which would make you consider it a very unsuitable place to be carrying guns and ammunition. Aside from anything else, you would surely need to trust those with you. But, as it turns out, giving your spacemen guns can be a very good idea, especially if you are a Soviet cosmonaut.
This is the story of one of the most unusual weapons of all time: the Soviet TP-82 Cosmonaut Survival Pistol.
The Cosmonaut Survival Pistol
The TP-82 was a rare type of gun that only cosmonauts from the Soviet Union carried at one point. This pistol was a relic of the Cold War between the United States of America and the Soviet Union, but the Russians did not anticipate small arms fire in space.
The Soviets, like the Americans, did not anticipate extraterrestrial encounters and the guns were not carried to deter any little green men that might be up there. Nor were the Soviets anticipating close quarters battle in any floating space stations high above the planet: they were as sober as the Americans in their approach to space travel.
The design and purpose of the TP-82 Cosmonaut Survival Pistol might therefore be a little confusing as most of the cosmonauts were primarily scientists and not battle-ready fighters. However, the Soviet Cosmonaut Gun was designed to come in handy in space and after the cosmonauts returned to the surface of the Earth.
The origins of the Cosmonaut Survival Pistol date back to the mid-1960s when in 1965, Alexey Leonov had only recently re-entered the atmosphere and landed, completing his Voskhod 2 mission. His returning capsule landed somewhat off-course in the Siberian region of Russia. The region where the capsule landed was hundreds of miles away from the original landing spot, where the recovery crew was waiting for him.
The Siberian region is known for its rare and ferocious wildlife, such as the Siberian tigers, wolves, and bears. The cosmonaut would need a survival weapon to survive among these dangerous predators.
It was clear that, to deal with the rugged terrain and fauna of Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union, the Russian cosmonauts would need a firearm to defend themselves. They were therefore given a Makarov pistol at that time as part of the survival kit for Soviet cosmonauts.
However, the Soviet cosmonauts needed an upgrade from the Makarov pistols because they could not serve as the multi-utility weapons they would need to survive in the wild and challenging situations. The Makarov cartridges were not capable or large enough to take out an apex predator in the Russian wilderness.
The Makarov pistol’s tiny sights and less powerful muzzle were dismissed as unsuitable: an improvement was needed. That is how the TP-82 Cosmonaut Survival Pistol came into existence.
The Design of the TP-82
Incorporating the suggestions of Alexey Leonov, the designs of the TP-82 Cosmonaut Survival Pistol were drawn up. The process of designing and creating the Cosmonaut Survival Pistol was started in 1981.
For many years, the designs of the Cosmonaut Survival Pistol remained a closely guarded secret of the Soviet Union. However, with time, the secret was leaked. The astronauts at NASA were also eventually trained with the TP-82 Cosmonaut Survival Pistol during cross-practice sessions with Russian cosmonauts.
And it was a success: for 30 years from 1986 to 2006 the pistol was issued to Soviet cosmonauts. After all, if you’ve survived a trip to space it was very important that you not be eaten by wolves at the last minute.
Although the TP-82 was called a pistol, its design was not exactly like a pistol. The only characteristic of the Soviet Cosmonaut Gun was that it could operate without a stock, making it a pistol. The gun is a three-barreled firearm that can be used with two different calibers. The top two barrels of the gun are smooth bore which helps the pistol in firing like a Russian shotgun, or a 40 gauge pistol.
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The third and bottom barrel is rifled and can be used as a chamber for rifle rounds for improved range and accuracy, which can help the cosmonaut in hunting. The rifle chamber of the TP-82 Cosmonaut Survival Pistol is effectively the same as an AK-74 rifle of Russian origins.
This also meant it was reliable. Therefore, the TP-82 Cosmonaut Survival Pistol combines small size, multi-utility, and power in its body and design for the cosmonaut’s survival purpose.
The design of the pistol was also specialized to be as compact as possible while still being highly usable, as is the case with almost all things that are specifically designed to go into space. The TP-82 Cosmonaut Survival Pistol stock doubles up as a machete and is a multi-purpose weapon.
The structure of the Soviet Cosmonaut Gun is made for extra stability and accuracy. The range of the survival weapon is also awe-inspiring, which must have helped lost Russian cosmonauts survive in unfamiliar terrain while they waited for their rescue.
Unique Purpose, Unique Gun
The TP-82 pistol was designed for space travelers and was different from the usual military weapons that people on land wielded. The pistol was so designed that it could kill game in case the cosmonaut was forced to kill and live off prey while being stranded in the woods.
The design also allowed the cosmonauts to kill apex predators from close range with the smooth bore barrels in case of an animal attack. The Soviet Cosmonaut Gun did not need much training from the person who wielded it and stayed stable in different conditions. The Soviet Cosmonaut Gun could also shoot signal flares for help and rescue.
The gun was a versatile weapon that served generations of astronauts after its circulation in the space traveler circuit. The Soviet Cosmonaut Gun was a peacetime weapon that nevertheless could have saved the lives of many Russian cosmonauts.
Top Image: The Soviet TP-82 pistol was not for use in space, but rather for self-defense and survival in the Siberian wilderness. Source: Dmitriy / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri