To this day, the Russian Federal Space Agency refuses to talk about the weapon—though it’s an open secret. Astronauts heading to the International Space Station have trained with it, and some have even talked about it.And in case there’s any doubt about its existence, there’s one on display in a Russian museum. It’s the TP-82 survival pistol. There was a time when Russian cosmonauts regularly traveled to space with the gun in tow. But calling it a pistol is slightly misleading—the TP-82 more like a small shotgun.
The Soviet Union included the weapon in Granat-6 survival kits stashed inside Soyuz capsules between 1982 and 2006. The odd weapons also found their way into military aircraft survival kits.
Having a gun inside a thin-walled spacecraft filled with oxygen sounds crazy, but the Soviets had their reasons. Much of Russia is desolate wilderness. A single mishap during descent could strand cosmonauts in the middle of nowhere. In March 1965, cosmonaut Alexey Leonov landed a mechanically-faulty Voskhod space capsule in the snowy forests of the western Urals … 600 miles from his planned landing site.
For protection, Leonov had a nine-millimeter pistol. He feared the bears and wolves that prowled the forest—though he never encountered any. But the fear stayed with him. Later in his career, he made sure the Soviet military provided all its cosmonauts with a survival weapon.
Leonov’s lobbying efforts culminated in the TP-82. It was essentially a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun with a short-barreled rifle added onto it. It was good for hunting small game, while packing a big enough punch to deter a 1,000-pound brown bear.