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In 1961 Yuri Gagarin flew a rocket and survived, parachuting safely back to earth. According to Wikipedia, Lothar Sieber, a german pilot, tested a rocket in 1945 but died in the first test flight.

So the question is who is the first man to survived manned vertical rocket launch? Presumably without reaching space and landing the rocket via controlled flight, or a parachute or other means.

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Yes, it appears that Lothar Sieber was the first man to vertically launch in a rocket, the Bachem Ba 349 Mark 23 prototype anti-bomber craft he was test-piloting for the Luftwaffe on March 1, 1945. Unfortunately for him, later phases of its test flight did not go well, and he ended up dying in the crash.

There were three recorded successful manned test flights after that, but I can't find any reference to the names of those pilots. Presumably the first one of those would be the guy fitting your critera. It seems likely that information wasn't recorded (perhaps for security reasons at the time). However, its also possible there might be claimants after the war ended.

After the test flights, they ordered a production run, and were all set to launch the first operational flights on Hitler's birthday when the US army overran the operational launch site near Stuttgart. So it looks like it was a few years where those three test pilots (assuming they survived their other Luftwaffe duties) were the only living humans to have performed this feat.

The only online source I've found with good detailed information about the later stages of the project (after that fatal test flight) referenced the book Projekt Natter, Last of the Wonder Weapons, by Brett Gooden

  • Interestingly, there are multiple online sources that report that the project was cancelled due to the crash, and multiple others that include the detail about the 3 later successful flights, and some other details. – T.E.D. Apr 25 at 20:41
  • Do any giive sources for "manned flight after crash"? Most I read were retelling the tale that only a few more unmanned flights took place. – LangLangC Apr 25 at 21:01
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    @LangLangC - No, they don't, so IMHO skepticism for both aftermath tales wouldn't be entirely unjustified at this point. I'm inclined to lean towards the "three more flights" story based on the fact that one version of it (on WP) goes into more detail about the production numbers that were ordered, and what happened them all, and what couldn't be found, which sounds much duller and less tidy of a story to have made up than simply "it got cancelled". But it could use better documentation. – T.E.D. Apr 25 at 21:08
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    @T.E.D. This video claims [at 17:15] that the further test flights were scheduled for Hitler's birthday, but the site was over-run by allied forces before they could take place. The author (if that's the correct term?) doesn't offer sources, but does have a Discord site, so I guess we could ask him? – sempaiscuba Apr 25 at 21:17
  • @sempaiscuba - According to this bit at the end of the WP page those were not test flights, but rather the first operational flights that were scheduled on Hitler's birthday, but overrun by US troops. This much they do have a reference for: "Gooden, Brett A. Projekt Natter, Last of the Wonder Weapons". Added to answer. – T.E.D. Apr 25 at 21:47
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Define "rocket flight". The Natter wasn't technically a rocket, it was a rocket powered aircraft.

After the vertical boost phase, it was controlled using aerodynamic flight surfaces (or that was the plan).

According to a more strict definition the honour would go to either Yuri Gagarin or Alan Shepard (as Gagarin didn't land inside his craft).

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