Boris Volynov (born December 18, 1934) is a Jewish Russian cosmonaut widely considered to be the first Jew to go into space.
Volynov was born in the Siberian city of Irkutsk in the former Soviet Union and grew up in Prokopevsk, a town located in the Kemerovo Oblast region of southern Russia. Once in the military, Volynov attended the Higher Air Force School in Stalingrad as well as the Soviet Military Engineering Academy, becaming a colonel in the Soviet Air Force.
In 1960, Volynov was chosen as one of the Soviet's inaugural cosmonauts, though due to a number of failed missions and, according to many sources, the fact that he was Jewish, Volynov did not actually get to fly in space until 1969. From 1960 to 1963, he served as a backup crewman for the Soviet Vostok 3, 4, and 5 flights and in 1964 he was again a backup for the Voshkod 1 and 2 missions. Later that year, Volynow had risen to a position that was to see him command the Voshkod 3 flight into space, though that mission never materialized as near fatal problems in the prior Voshkod capsule had not been fixed.
Finally on January 15, 1969, Volynov launched into space as commander of the Soyuz 5 mission. Technical failures resulting from an unusual orbital reenty almost killed Volynov in his spacecraft and though he eventually landed back on Earth safely, the physical and mental trauma he suffered kept him from flying again for nearly seven years. To save face from the near-disaster, the Soviet government commanded Volynov to keep the Soyuz 5 problems under wraps. In 1969, a large parade was held to celebrate the Soviet space achievement and Volynov and his fellow cosmonauts were awarded the "Hero of the Soviet Union" and the "Order of Lenin" awards.
In July 1976, Volynov finally led another mission to space, commanding the Soyuz 21, and despite another round of complications during reentry and landing, everyone on board survived the ordeal. Years later, speaking about the Soyuz 5 experience, Volynov said that “there was no fear but a deep-cutting and very clear desire to live on when there was no chance left.”
In 1982, Volynov retired from the space program and subsequently spent eight years as a senior administrator of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, Russia.
The story of Volynov’s history in space, and thus his claim to fame, is unfortunately little-known today because it was kept secret until the fall of the USSR. Volynov himself rarely told the story of his space adventures either. In 2006, he visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first time to tell his stories.
All told, Boris Volynus spent 52 days, 7 hours and 17 minutes above the Earth's atmosphere and honorably holds the title of first Jewish person in space.