Guns in space: Why did Russian cosmonauts carry shotguns during missions?

Cosmonauts started carrying a powerful shotgun during space missions after Alexei Leonov's terrifying encounter

For over two decades, Russian cosmonauts carried a unique type of firearm into space during their missions. Although this gun was brought to space, it was designed to protect cosmonauts from Earth-based threats.

The idea behind arming cosmonauts with a powerful weapon dates back to the Soviet Union era. It started after Alexei Leonov, the first human to conduct a spacewalk, had a terrifying encounter shortly after a mission.

Why Cosmonauts Needed A Gun

Alexei Leonov
Cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov (left) and astronaut Thomas P. Stafford take part in joint crew training at the Cosmonaut Training Center known as Star City, near Moscow. They are inside a Soviet Soyuz orbital module trainer. NASA

In 1965, Leonov and fellow cosmonaut Pavel Belyayev successfully carried out the Soviet Union's Voshkod 2 mission. Unfortunately, when their capsule returned to Earth, it missed the designated landing zone and crashed in a remote forest. Due to the vastness of the Soviet Union's territory, it took two whole days before Leonov and Belyayev to be rescued, Business Insider reported.

During those two days, the two cosmonauts had to survive in a forest inhabited by large and dangerous predators such as bears. Although the cosmonauts were equipped with pistols, Leonov feared that his handgun does not have enough stopping power to ward off a charging bear or other large animal.

Debut Of The TP-82 Pistol

Nasa Scott kelly returns to earch
NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), in Star City, Russia, March 4, 2105. Reuters

As a result, the Soviet Union began working on a survival firearm based on Leonov's experience. This led to the development of the TP-82 pistol, which is a firearm that featured three barrels. The weapon's upper two barrels were designed to fire 12.5x70 millimetre or 40 gauge shotgun shells.

The lower barrel, on the other hand, was meant for the 5.45x39 millimetre ammunition, which is commonly used for the AK-74 rifle. Aside from these, the TP-82 can also fire off flares.

The entire design of the firearm was conceptualized to help cosmonauts survive in the harsh forests of the Soviet Union during emergency situations. Aside from being used to hunt and take down large predators, the TP-82 can also be used to chop wood using the machete attached to its buttstock. The Soviet Union started issuing the TP-82 for its cosmonauts in 1981. They stopped using it in 2007 after its ammunition became unusable.

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