Dec. 12, 2011
The Lost Cosmonauts or Phantom Cosmonauts, are cosmonauts who allegedly entered outer space, but whose existence has never been acknowledged by either the Soviet or Russian space authorities.
Proponents of the Lost Cosmonauts theory concede that Yuri Gagarin was the first man to survive space travel, but claim that the Soviet Union attempted to launch two or more manned space flights prior to Gagarin's, and that at least two cosmonauts died in the attempts. Another cosmonaut, Vladimir Ilyushin, is believed to have landed off-course and was held by the Chinese government. The Soviet government supposedly suppressed this information, to prevent bad publicity during the height of the Cold War, Soviet doctrine was that the "failure does not exist".
The evidence cited to support Lost Cosmonaut theories is generally not regarded as conclusive, and several cases have been confirmed as hoaxes. In the 1980s, American journalist James Oberg researched space-related disasters in the Soviet Union, but found no evidence of these Lost Cosmonauts. However, since the early 1990s collapse of the Soviet Union, much previously restricted information is now available. Even with access to published Soviet archival material and memoirs of Russian space pioneers, no hard evidence has emerged to support the Lost Cosmonaut stories. Some argue that records are still being kept confidential, or were destroyed altogether.
Supposed incidents in space
An article published in the English language edition of Pravda in April 2001, forty years after Gagarin's successful orbit, gave some details about the three cosmonauts reputed to have been lost in earlier missions.
Presumed dead in sub-orbital flights
Aleksei Ledovsky (late 1957)
In December 1959, a "high-ranking Czech Communist" leaked information about many purported 'unofficial' space 'shots'. Aleksei Ledovsky was mentioned as being launched inside a converted R-5A rocket.
Serenti Shiborin (February, 1958)
Pioneering space theoretician Hermann Oberth claimed in 1959 that a pilot had been killed on a sub-orbital ballistic flight from Kapustin Yar in early 1958. He never provided a source for the story. In December 1959, the Italian news agency Continentale reported that a series of cosmonaut deaths on suborbital flights had been revealed by a high-ranking Czech communist. Among these were Serenti Shiborin, said to have perished in 1958. No other evidence of Soviet sub-orbital manned flights ever came to light.
Andrei Mitkov (January, 1959)
In December 1959, a "High-ranking Czech communist" leaked much information about many of these 'unofficial' launches, and Andrei Mitkov was, like Ledovsky, mentioned as being launched inside of an R-5A conversion.
Mirya Gromova (1959)
In December 1959, again a "High-ranking Czech communist" leaked information about many of these 'unofficial' launches, including that of Mirya Gromova, a woman who purportedly flew "some sort of 'space aeroplane' into oblivion", never to be seen or heard from again. If the story of Gromova is true, her craft most likely disintegrated upon re-entry from a sub-orbital flight. The 'Space Aeroplane' would likely be a Cosmonaut training vehicle, intended for high-altitude operation.
Unknown man (May 15, 1960)
Robert A. Heinlein wrote in his 1960 article "'Pravda' means 'justice'" (reprinted in Expanded Universe) that on 15 May 1960, while traveling in the Soviet Union, in Vilnius (called by its Polish name "Wilno" throughout the article; Vilnius is far away from Soviet rocket launch sites), he was told by Red Army cadets that the Soviet Union had launched a man into orbit that day, but that later the same day it was denied by officials and that no issues of the Pravda national newspaper could be found in Vilnius or, reportedly, other Soviet cities.
Heinlein wrote that there was an orbital launch, later said to be unmanned, on that day, but that the retro-rockets had fired while the vehicle was at the wrong altitude, making recovery efforts unsuccessful.
According to Gagarin's biography these rumours were likely started as a result of two Vostok missions, equipped with dummies and human voice tape recordings, to check if the radio worked, that were made just prior to Gagarin's flight.
"FM-2 Phantom" Soviet dummy
According to the NASA NSSDC Master Catalog, on 15 May 1960, Sputnik 4 with "a self-sustaining biological cabin with a dummy of a man" was launched.
Examples of image manipulations by the Soviets:
Bus or train trip with a photographer in the middle of Russian cosmonauts in the 1960s.
The same photo now, with an cosmonaut "missing" the background to the right.
Presumed dead in orbital flights
Ivan Kachur (September 27, 1960)
A 1959 edition of Ogonyok carried images of three men, Piotr Dolgov, Ivan Kachur and Alexis Graciov(?), testing high-altitude equipment. Kachur is known to have disappeared around this time; his name has become linked to this equipment.
Piotr Dolgov (October 11, 1960)
Piotr Dolgov was a colonel in the Soviet Air Force.
Over the years there have been false reports that Dolgov was actually killed on October 11, 1960, in a failed flight of a Vostok spacecraft. Such a flight would have occurred six months prior to the historic Vostok 1 flight of Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961. These reports would make Dolgov a phantom cosmonaut, one of a few whose identity is documented, although he was not a member of the cosmonaut team.
Officially he was killed on November 1, 1962, while carrying out a high-altitude parachute jump from a Volga balloon gondola. Dolgov jumped at an altitude of 28,640 meters (93,970 feet). The helmet visor of Dolgov's Sokol space suit hit part of the gondola as he exited, de-pressurizing the suit and killing him.
Alexis Graciov (December, 1960)
Group photo of USSR cosmonauts in Sochi in 1961, large group. The picture comes in different versions, up to six astronauts and less.
In this photo, 22 people, 16 cosmonauts, with the rocket engineer Korolioff, his wife, the daughter of the Cosmonaut Popovich, two educators and a doctor. Two more variants of this picture show up to 6 astronauts least manipulated again.
V. Zavadovsky (1960/61)
In late 1959, Ogonyok carried pictures of a certain 'Comrade V. Zavadovsky' testing high-altitude equipment (perhaps with Graciov and others). Zavadovsky would later appear on lists of 'dead cosmonauts', without a date of death or accident description.
However, in a US press conference on 23 February 1962, Col. Barney Oldfield revealed that a space cabin had been orbiting the earth since about 1960, as it had become jammed into its booster rocket. Korabl Sputnik 1, as it was known, was a prototype of the later Zenit and Vostok manned launchers. The onboard TDU had ordered the retro rockets to fire, but had instead malfunctioned and done the inverse - putting the craft into a higher orbit. The re-entry capsule was apparently without even a heatshield. The Soviet Union claimed the capsule had been unmanned.
Ludmila and Nikolay/Anatoly Tokovy (1961)
Supposedly a married couple - Ludmila Tokovy and "Nikolay" or "Anatoly" Tokovy
Pair of Cosmonauts are probably died when their capsule to burn at its re-entry, TASS later reported that an unmanned satellite roughly the size of a London bus had been launched, but had disintegrated during re-entry.
Group photo in Sochi with all the cosmonauts in May 1961. Background: PR Popovich, Nelyuboff GG, GS Titov, VF Bykovsky; foreground: A. G. Nikolayev, Y.A. Gagarin, Chief Engineer of SP Korolioff Vostok, the Director for Education Karpov, parachute teacher NK Nikitin.
The group photo manipulated in Sochi in May 1961, since 1962 approx. : An cosmonaut lack the background: Grigory Grigoryevich Nelyuboff.
The Torre Bert Recordings
Image above: The Judica-Cordiglia brothers put up their antennae on a Turin rooftop. Image courtesy of Judica-Cordiglia brothers.
Regardless of the existence of either Nikolay/Anatoly Tokovy, the Torre Bert listening station in northern Italy purported to have picked up a transmission of a woman's voice, sounding confused and frightened as her craft began to break up upon reentry. Presumably the voice was Ludmila's, though no one knows how or why this name has become attached to the voice on the tape. The interpretation of the tape can be found at the website: http://www.lostcosmonauts.com/
The Torre Bert mobile listening station. Image courtesy of Judica-Cordiglia brothers
Gennady Mikhailov (February 2, 1961)
Alleged first human in orbit, Gennady Mikhailov may have died in orbit due to heart failure. This rumor may have been derived from reports in the French and Italian press, claiming that Sputnik 7 (launched 4 February, not 2) was a manned mission. According to the TASS news agency it was a failed Venus probe. This is believed to be the source of the Torre Bert recording of both heartbeats and breathing. Both files can be found at the Lost Cosmonauts Web site.
Unknown couple (February 24, 1961)
There were reports of a couple launched on February 17 aboard a 'Lunik' spacecraft orbiting the earth, reporting "Everything is satisfactory, we are orbiting the earth" at regular intervals.
On February 24, there were some garbled verbal transmissions about something the couple could see outside their ship, and had to urgently communicate to Earth. What happened is unclear, but communication was lost. Around the same time the listening station at Torre Bert apparently picked up an SOS signal from a craft in space. As the signal got weaker, it was assumed whatever craft it was disappeared into deep space.
Valentin Bondarenko (March 23, 1961)
Valentin Bondarenko, a member of the original cosmonaut program, died in a training accident on the ground when a high-oxygen pressurised chamber he was in caught fire on 23 March 1961. He was erased from official Soviet pictures and descriptive materials of the cosmonaut program, leading to all manner of speculation about him and other cosmonauts whose histories were less than perfectly known. The true nature of his accident was not revealed until the 1980s.
Vladimir Ilyushin (April 7, 1961)
Vladimir Ilyushin, son of Soviet airplane designer Sergey Ilyushin, was a Soviet pilot and is purported to have been a cosmonaut, alleged by some to have actually been the first man in space on 7 April 1961--an honor generally attributed to Yuri Gagarin on 12 April.
The theories surrounding this alleged orbital flight are that a failure aboard the spacecraft caused controllers to bring the descending capsule down several orbits earlier than intended, resulting in its landing in the People's Republic of China. The pilot was then held by Chinese authorities for a year before being returned to the Soviet Union. The international embarrassment that would have resulted from such an incident is cited as the Soviets' reason for not publicizing this flight, instead focusing their publicizing efforts on the subsequent successful flight of Yuri Gagarin.
However, there are reasons to disbelieve this allegation. Although both were Communist governments, relations between the Soviet Union and China were strained. The propaganda value of a Soviet pilot captured flying over Chinese territory would have given little reason for Chinese authorities to cooperate in a cover-up. Also, "bringing the capsule down several orbits earlier than intended" does not make sense, considering that the mission involved a single orbit.
This theory originated on 10 April 1961, with Dennis Ogden, the Moscow correspondent of the British Communist newspaper Daily Worker, and was actually based on Ilyushin's medical treatment and care in China. According to many Soviet sources including the article in Komsomolskaya Pravda dated 11 July 2005, although Ilyushin was a famous test pilot, he was never involved in the space program. On 5 June 1960, his legs were seriously injured in a car accident, and Ilyushin underwent medical treatment for a year in Moscow, then was sent Hangzhou, China, for rehabilitation under specialists in oriental medicine.This explanation was also confirmed by the Soviet defector Leonid Vladimirov, an engineer who had personal contacts with Ilyushin in 1960, in his 1973 book "The Russian Space Bluff", published in Frankfurt (Russian translation of the book).
The theory was lent some credibility in 1999 in a documentary on the subject titled called Cosmonaut Cover-Up. Interviewed in English, Sergei Khrushchev, son of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, said that it was true and that Vladimir Ilyushin was actually held in China for over a year as a "guest" of the People's Republic of China. He was later returned to the Soviet Union, but by then the Gagarin legend was in place and the bizarre incident was covered up. The main reason for concealment was to not let the West see the schism between China and the USSR.
Vladimir Ilyushin, who currently lives in Russia, has never confirmed this theory.
Alexis Belokoniov (November, 1962)
Alexis Belokoniov is reportedly one of three (two men and a woman) cosmonauts aboard a November flight. The Torre Bert tower in Italy allegedly picked up a frantic set of messages relayed by the three occupants. 'Conditions growing worse why don't you answer? ... we are going slower... the world will never know about us . . .
Sources in Western intelligence claim that at least three undisclosed missions failed in the second half of the 1960s, including a multiple launch in 1966.
A number of claims have been confirmed as hoaxes:
A 1998 American urban legend held that during the fall of the Soviet Union, one of their cosmonauts was stranded on the Mir space station. The Soyuz ferry spacecraft had a nominal on-orbit storage life of 180 days. Financial and technical problems, related to the political uncertainty, delayed the launch of replacement crews.
Several times the Soyuz craft remained docked to the station, in orbit, longer than its six-month-rated life. Every time this happened 'experts' would state on television news reports that the crew was 'stranded'. This first happened on the Soyuz TM-15 flight of 1992.
This legend became the basis for the Norwegian short film 'Kosmonaut', directed by Stefan Faldbakken. The film created a sensation at the 2001 Venice Film Festival and told with considerable technical accuracy the story of fictional cosmonaut Igor Fedrov. Plot: on a long duration mission aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, Fedrov is unable to contact ground control during the chaotic period after Gorbachev's overthrow in 1991. Stranded in his Soyuz capsule, unable to receive instructions or update his guidance system, his life support supplies dwindling, he finally attempts a manually guided reentry and dies in the attempt.
Officially Soyuz 2 was an 'unmanned spacecraft' that was the docking target for Soyuz 3. However, Mike Arena, an American journalist, found in 1993 that Ivan Istochnikov and his dog Kloka were manning Soyuz 2, and disappeared on 26 October 1968, with signs of having been hit by a meteorite. They had been "erased" from history by the Soviet authorities, who could not tolerate such a failure.
The entire story was a hoax perpetrated by Joan Fontcuberta, a 'modern art exercise' that included falsified mission 'artifacts', various digitally manipulated images, and immensely detailed feature-length biographies which turned out to be riddled with hundreds of historical as well as technical errors. The exhibit was shown in Madrid in 1997 and the National Museum of Catalan Art in 1998. Brown University later purchased several articles, and put them on display themselves.
Mexico's Luna Cornea magazine however, failed to notice this, and ran issue number 14 (January/April 1998) with photos, and a story explaining the tragic and as-yet-untold truth.
The name Ivan Istochnikov is a Russian translation of Joan Fontcuberta's name; translated to English from Russian reads "John of the Source".
On 11 June 2006, Cuarto Milenio, a mysteries program led by Iker Jiménez on the Spanish TV channel Cuatro, presented the story as possibly true.
Japanese singer Akino Arai wrote a song about Istochnikov and Kloka, titled "Sputnik" on her Furu Platinum album.
Andrei Mikoyan was reportedly killed together with a second crew member in an attempt to reach the moon ahead of the Americans in early 1969. Due to system malfunction they failed to get into lunar orbit and shot past the moon.
The source of this story was undoubtedly the television series 'The Cape'. The episode 'Buried in Peace' first aired on 28 October 1996. In it a shuttle crew on a mission to repair a communications satellite encounters a derelict Soviet spacecraft with a dead crew - the result of a secret attempt to send a manned mission to the moon 30 years earlier, before the United States. Tom Nowicki played Major Andrei Mikoyan in the story.
NASA Astronaut Memorial Wall
The NASA Astronaut Memorial Wall includes the names of 24 Astronauts who have given their lives in service of the space program. Of these, 17 were lost in space-related accidents and the remaining seven died in aircraft accidents. An additional eight cosmonauts have also perished during the Soviet / Russian space program. A brief biography of each of these lost pioneers is provided: http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/history/q0114.shtml
Additional information on NASA astronauts is available at the NASA Astronaut Office: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/
This article provides an overview of all acknowledged fatalities and near-fatalities that occurred during manned space missions, accidents during astronaut training and during the testing, assembling or preparing for flight of manned and unmanned spacecraft. Not included are fatalities occurring during ICBM accidents, and Soviet or German rocket-fighter projects of World War II. Also not included are alleged Soviet space accidents (above) that were not reported by the Soviet Union.
Images, Videos, Text, Credit: Roscosmos / Alex Tomlinson / The Torre Bert, Judica-Cordiglia brothers / ARTE TV / Wikipedia / AFP / NASA / Orbiter.ch.
This article has been published on my Myspace blog in 2009.