Translator’s Note: The following article is a superb deconstruction (and dismissal) of the Western ‘lies’ concerning the Space Programme of the USSR. The United States was completely ‘wrong-footed’ with the Soviet space successes of the late 1950s and predictably reacted with extreme paranoia, hatred and racist discontent! How could the USSR – which had suffered around 27-40 million casualties during the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) – recover from the immense material and economic damage it suffered and be able to perfect space technology? The Americans were concerned that this success might be a definite demonstration of the inevitable superiority of Scientific Socialism and sought to ‘combat’ and ‘undo’ this success through a campaign of continuous ‘lying’ and ‘fabrication’. Much of this body of anti-intellectual disinformation is still found in textbooks and historical narratives produced in the West even though it is easy to disprove through even rudimentary research. I attended an exhibition a few years ago held at London’s Science Museum. This displayed the Soviet space technology designed to land on the Moon in the 1960s – but even the Science Museum included Cold War lies in its historical narrative. Anti-Socialism of this type is a form of mental illness that spreads through contact. In a similar light, the internet abounds with stories of ‘lost Cosmonauts’ – men and women who were supposedly sent to their doom by a blood-thirsty ‘Socialist’ regime that had to ‘win’ at any cost regardless of the human casualties! The US (and its allies) appear to have fabricated a number of audio-clips that are supposed to feature Soviet Cosmonauts at the end of failed missions – just prior to their presumed demise on re-entry. Even within the declassified Soviet Archives none of this has been found to be true. Interestingly, even the ‘Daily Worker’ (now called the ‘Morning Star’) – the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) at the time (now the newspaper of the ‘Communist Party of Britain’), also joined the bourgeois, mainstream media and took part in this campaign of attacking the integrity of the USSR and the efficacy of its space programme! Needless to say, the Soviet System went to great care to protect the well-being of its Cosmonauts – and lost the race to the Moon because of this hesitancy and caution on the side of safety (the scientists were not satisfied that the intended manned Soviet capsule would land safely on the Moon). ACW (3.2.2021)
The ‘Trashy’ Disinformation Aimed at Soviet Cosmonauts
By Anton Pervushin (2003)
Not so long ago, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight into space, in periodicals and on information sites on the Internet, exposing articles appeared again that Gagarin was not the first Soviet cosmonaut. In particular, in an interview with Interfax, a certain Mikhail Rudenko, who called himself an experimental engineer of OKB-456, said that in the period from 1957 to 1959 ballistic missiles were launched from the Kapustin Yar Cosmodrome, piloted by pilots Ledovskys, Shaborin and Mitkov. They all died and their names were never officially mentioned. “According to Rudenko’s information,” Interfax reports, “these pilots took part in the so-called suborbital flights, that is, they should not have made a whole orbit around the planet, which Gagarin subsequently performed, but fly in a parabola. Moreover, Ledovskikh,Shaborin and Mitkov were ordinary test pilots and did not receive any special training.” Stories like this appear in print with enviable regularity. In Soviet times, publications about secret victims of the Soviet cosmonautics were inaccessible to our readers. Now there are no censorship restrictions on all sorts of sensations. Where did the myth about the victims of the Soviet cosmonautics come from?
Fabricating Phantom Cosmonauts!
In the book of memoirs of the head of the cosmonaut corps, Lieutenant-General of Aviation Nikolai Kamanin, we read a diary entry dated February 12, 1961: “After the rocket was launched to Venus on February 4, many in the West believe that we unsuccessfully launched a man into space; Italians even seemed to hear groans and intermittent Russian speech. All this is completely baseless inventions. In fact, we are working hard on the guaranteed landing of the astronaut. From my point of view, we are even overly careful in this. There will never be a complete guarantee of a successful first flight into space, and a certain amount of risk is justified by the greatness of the task…” The start on February 4, 1961 really cannot be called successful. This was the first attempt to send an automated station to Venus. The Molniya launch vehicle launched the station into space, but the upper stage did not turn on, and the station remained in near-earth orbit. The Soviet government did not want to officially admit the failure, and TASS announced to the whole world about the launch of a heavy satellite and the fulfilment of the scientific and technical tasks set at the same time. Alexander Bushkov in his book “Russia, Which Did Not Exist” cites a story he heard in his youth: as if between the flights of German Titov (August 6, 1961) and Andriyan Nikolaev (August 11, 1962) another launch took place – a multi-seat spacecraft with three cosmonauts on board. Say, this ship crashed and fell in a remote corner of the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and the pilots were killed. Accordingly, the incident was classified, and all unintentional witnesses signed a non-disclosure agreement…
But back to Western journalists. The first known message on the “victims of the red space” was announced by the Italians – in December 1959, the Continental telegraph agency circulated a statement by a high-ranking Czech communist that a number of manned ballistic missile launches had been carried out in the USSR since 1957. One of the pilots, named Aleksey Ledovsky, died on November 1, 1957 during such a suborbital launch. (Note that in the modern version of the old story, the surname is changed to Ledovskikh – the consequences of a bad translation.) Developing the topic, the agency named three more names of the “dead” Cosmonauts: Sergei Shiborin (died on February 1, 1958), Andrey Mitkov (died on January 1, 1959 ) and Maria Gromova (died June 1, 1959). It was indicated that Gromova did not die during a flight on a ballistic missile, but as a result of the accident of a prototype orbital aircraft with a rocket engine.
Completely independently of the Italians, but at the same time, the famous rocket science pioneer Hermann Obert said that he had data on a manned suborbital launch that took place at the Kapustin Yar test site in early 1958 and ended in the death of the pilot. He allegedly obtained this information while working for the American space program in Huntsville, Alabama. But if Obert was very careful in his statements, emphasizing that he knew about the space catastrophe from hearsay and could not vouch for the veracity of this information, then the Continental agency gave out one sensation after another. Italian correspondents talked either about the lunar spacecraft that exploded on the launch pad of the Siberian Cosmodrome Sputnik-grad, or about the upcoming secret space flight of two Soviet pilots… None of the sensations were confirmed, and Continental’s messages were no longer trusted. But the rumour factory soon had followers.
In October 1959, the Ogonyok magazine and one of the Moscow newspapers published photographs of test pilots Belokonev, Kachur, Grachev, Mikhailov and Zavadovsky. The Associated Press journalist, who reprinted the material, for some reason concluded that the photographs depicted future Soviet Cosmonauts. Since later these names never appeared in the official TASS reports, a logical conclusion was made about the death of these five during the early launches, which ended in disaster. Moreover, the fantasy of the journalists was so played out that for each of them they came up with a separate version of the death with a huge number of completely incredible details. So, after the launch of the first satellite 1KP on May 15, 1960, Western media claimed that pilot Zavadovsky was on board, who died due to a failure in the orientation system, which put the ship into a higher orbit.
The mythical Cosmonaut Kachur found his death on September 27, 1960 during an unsuccessful launch of another satellite ship, the orbital flight of which was supposed to take place during Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to New York. Allegedly, Khrushchev had a demonstration model of a manned spacecraft with him, which he was supposed to triumphantly show to Western journalists after receiving a message about a successful flight and the return of an astronaut. I must say that the Soviet diplomatic services themselves created an unhealthy atmosphere of anticipation of some events, hinting to American journalists that something amazing would happen on September 27. In addition, intelligence reported that Soviet spacecraft tracking ships took up positions around the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A Soviet sailor who fled to the West during the described period confirmed that a space launch was being prepared. Knocking his boot on the rostrum of the UN General Assembly, on October 13, 1960, the Soviet leader left America, but nothing happened. There were no official statements from TASS either. Of course, this tactic of silence immediately bore fruit: the journalists immediately trumpeted the whole world about a new catastrophe that befell the Soviet space program.
Only now, when many archives are open and many data have been declassified, it became known that the next launch was indeed planned for September 26-27, 1960, only not a Cosmonaut was supposed to fly into space, but “1M” – the first automatic station for studying Mars. However, two attempts to send this station at least to near-earth orbit, undertaken on October 10 and 14, ended ingloriously: in both cases, the launch was cancelled due to the accident of the Molniya carrier rocket at the launch site.
The next victim of the space race, pilot Grachev, died, according to Western media, on September 15, 1961. The same rumour factory Continental told about his terrible death. In February 1962, this agency announced the information received from the Prague correspondent that in September 1961 two Soviet cosmonauts were launched on the Vostok-3 spacecraft. Allegedly, this launch was timed to coincide with the XXII Congress of the CPSU, and during the flight the ship was supposed to fly around the moon and return to Earth, but instead it got lost in the depths of the universe. The failed launch of the Venus station on February 4, 1961, sparked a new wave of rumours. Then, for the first time, two brothers-radio amateurs from the Italian city of Torre Berte made themselves known, who claimed that at a frequency of 22 MHz they managed to intercept telemetric radio signals of a human heartbeat. This incident is associated with the name of the mythical Cosmonaut Gennady Mikhailov, who allegedly died in orbit.
But that’s not all. In 1965, the Career Della Sera newspaper published a continuation of the story of two brothers, radio amateurs. This time they told at once about three facts of intercepting strange signals that came from space. The first took place on November 28, 1960 – radio amateurs heard the sounds of Morse code and a request for help in English. During the second interception, on May 16, 1961, they managed to catch the confused speech of a Russian woman-Cosmonaut on the air. During the third radio interception, on May 15, 1962, negotiations were recorded between three Russian pilots (two men and a woman) who were killed in space. In the recording, through the crackle of interference, the following phrases can be distinguished: “Conditions are getting worse… Why don’t you answer?… The speed is dropping… The world will never know about us…”
Impressive, isn’t it? To finally assure the reader of the authenticity of the facts, the Italian newspaper names the victims. The first victim on this list was pilot Alexis Gratsov (maybe Alexis Grachev after all?). The woman Cosmonaut name was Lyudmila. Among the trinity who died in 1962, for some reason, only one is named – the pilot from Ogonyok Alexei Belokonev. In the same year, the sensational information of the Italian newspaper was reprinted by the American magazine Reader’s Digest. She found indirect confirmation four years later in the book “Astronaut Autopsy”, written by the pathologist Sam Stonebreaker. In it, the author claimed to have been trained as an astronaut and flew into space in Gemini 12A to obtain tissue samples from dead Soviet pilots who have been resting in the spacecraft in orbit since May 1962. Perhaps this story was told to the writer Alexander Bushkov by those of our fellow citizens who had the opportunity to read the Western press in Soviet times. Among the mythical Cosmonauts, there were quite real people who worked for the space program. Thus, Pyotr Dolgov was declared a Cosmonaut who died in the crash of the Vostok series orbital ship on October 11, 1960. In fact, Colonel Pyotr Dolgov died on November 1, 1962, making an experimental parachute jump from the Volga stratospheric balloon, raised to a height of 28.6 kilometres. When Dolgov was leaving the stratospheric balloon, the faceplate of the pressure helmet cracked – death came instantly.
I am citing all these frankly fictional details here not in order to somehow amaze the reader or make him doubt the reliability of the history of astronautics known to us. I needed a review of rumours and mythical episodes in order to show how harmful the policy of silence and outright lies was for the reputation of the national space program. The reluctance and inability to admit mistakes played a cruel joke on us: even when TASS made a truthful statement, they refused to believe him, looking for contradictions or trying to read between the lines. It even got to the point that the very fact of Yuri Gagarin’s flight was questioned!
Was Gagarin the First?
About ten years ago, the book “Gagarin – a space lie?” Was published in Hungary. Its author, publicist Istvan Nemene took the liberty of claiming that Gagarin did not fly around our planet on April 12, 1961. “Vostok” ascended into space a few days earlier, – wrote Nemene. “On board it was the son of a famous aircraft designer, no less famous test pilot Vladimir Ilyushin.” Allegedly, after landing, Ilyushin looked so bad that it was in no way possible to show him to the world. On the contrary, it was required for a long time, preferably forever, that he be removed from the public’s eyes. And in the same year, Vladimir Ilyushin gets into a serious car accident. A nice guy with a cheerful smile and excellent personal data was urgently selected for the role of Cosmonaut N1. And so that the secret does not accidentally surface later ,Gagarin had a disaster during a training flight on the MiG-15UTI… Despite all the absurdity of the Hungarian publicist’s calculations, the book made a considerable impression on the public, because Nemene is far from the only author who calls Ilyushin the first cosmonaut.
On April 11, 1961, the Daily Worker (Morning Star) newspaper published a fake article by its Moscow correspondent Dennis Ogden, in which it was reported that on April 7 the son of an aircraft designer, test pilot Vladimir Ilyushin made an orbital flight on the Rossiya spacecraft. Soviet official bodies issued a refutation – astonished that a supposed ‘Communist’ newspapers would print such lies. In particular, they reported that back in June 1960, Ilyushin got into a car accident and had to undergo treatment for a long time: first in our country, and then in China. Probably, his departure for treatment abroad was perceived by the correspondent as a consequence of an unsuccessful flight into space.
But no one believed the Soviet statements and refutations. The history of Ilyushin’s space flight has become overgrown with details. Moreover, the broad masses believed in her so much that it was Vladimir Ilyushin, and not Yuri Gagarin, who was named the first Cosmonaut of the planet in the 1964 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. Gradually, interest in this unconfirmed story faded, and it was revived only thanks to the efforts of Nemene. In 1999, Dr. Elliott X. Heimoff added his page to the legend. He acted as a producer of a documentary film dedicated to Vladimir Ilyushin. It took five years and half a million dollars to make the picture, but it paid for itself, as it was acquired by such giants of the information market as the United States Public Broadcasting Channel, Discovery Channel, Horizon and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. According to the new version presented in the film, Vladimir Ilyushin launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 7, 1961. Then, on the Vostok spacecraft, he made three orbits around the Earth, but lost contact with ground services, as a result he had to switch to manual control. He eventually made an emergency landing in China, where he was arrested by local authorities. Only a year later, Ilyushin was handed over to the USSR under a secret agreement between the two countries. Before us is a classic example of retelling an old legend in a new way. The filmmakers took into account the inconsistencies of Nemene’s version of historical reality, because test pilot Vladimir Ilyushin is alive and, moreover, made a brilliant career in the aviation design bureau of Pavel Sukhoi. At the same time, they agree with the Hungarian publicist in assessing the reasons for the death of Gagarin: they say, at some point, the cosmonaut became too independent and could tell the world the truth about the first manned flight into orbit, and therefore the KGB officers eliminated him by setting up an air disaster. However, the film itself does not contain any documentary evidence of this. All fantastic allegations are based on three interviews: with the creator of the legend Dennis Ogden (Daily Worker), with captain Anatoly Grushchenko, who said that he saw the film about Ilyushin’s launch, and with reporter Gordon Feller, who worked with the documents on Ilyushin’s orbital flight, allegedly stored in the Kremlin archive.
This approach to historical investigations does not stand up to the slightest criticism. If Ilyushin’s flight took place, then information leakage in one form or another would have occurred. Today, when the memoirs and diaries of many direct participants in the events have been published, when the “top secret” stamp has been removed from a huge number of documents related to the Soviet space program, some details, inconvenient photographs would inevitably surface, and erasures would become noticeable. But none of this is in sight. Moreover, there is even no information that Ilyushin ever underwent special training in the cosmonaut corps, which would have been completely impossible to conceal, and no one needs it…
All the rumours about Soviet cosmonautics that have flashed in the Western press since the mid-60s were taken on by the American expert on space technology James Oberg. Based on the collected material, he wrote the article “Phantoms of Space”, first published in 1975. Now this article has been supplemented with new materials and has gone through many reprints. Having the fame of an ardent anti-Soviet, Oberg is nevertheless very scrupulous in the selection of information regarding the secrets of the Soviet space program, and very cautious in the final conclusions. Without denying that there are still many blank spots in the history of Soviet Cosmonautics, he concludes that the stories about Cosmonauts who died during the launch or in orbit are implausible and are the product of a fantasy fuelled by the secrecy regime. The Cosmonauts did indeed die before Gagarin’s flight and after. Let’s remember them and bow our heads in front of Valentin Bondarenko (died on March 23, 1961 due to a fire in the isolation chamber), Vladimir Komarov (died on April 24, 1967 due to a disaster during the landing of the Soyuz-1 spacecraft), Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsaev (died on June 20, 1971 due to depressurization of the descent vehicle of the Soyuz-11 spacecraft). However, one thing should be remembered: in the history of Soviet Cosmonautics, there were NO secret corpses.
For those cynics who do not believe documents, memoirs and diaries, but rely solely on “logic” and “sanity”, I will give one cynical, but absolutely logical argument: in the conditions of the space race in the early 60s, it did not matter at all, as all that mattered was to return the first Cosmonaut to Earth, the main thing was to pursue the priority. Therefore, if the pilot Zavadovsky were on board the satellite “1-KP”, as some irresponsible authors try to assure us, then today he would be the first Cosmonaut off the planet. Of course, the whole world would mourn him, but the fact would remain a fact: a Soviet man was the first to be in space.
The readiness of the Soviet government to accept any scenario is also confirmed by a recently declassified document. This is a note sent to the Central Committee of the CPSU on March 30, 1961 on behalf of those in charge of the space program. Here are just some excerpts from it:
“We report <…> In total, seven launches of the Vostok satellites were carried out: five launches of Vostok-1 facilities and two launches of Vostok-3A facilities … descent to Earth, cosmonaut training allow at present to carry out the first manned flight into outer space.
For this, two Vostok-3A satellite ships have been prepared. The first ship is at the test site, and the second is being prepared for dispatch.
Six cosmonauts have been prepared for the flight.
We consider it expedient to publish the first TASS report immediately after the satellite spacecraft entered orbit for the following reasons:
a) if necessary, this will facilitate the rapid organization of the rescue;
b) this will exclude the announcement by any foreign state of the Cosmonaut as a reconnaissance for military purposes…”
The TASS message about the first manned flight into space was announced even before Gagarin returned to Earth. And then – as the Launch Commission would decide…
Do you still have questions?…
X-Files (St. Petersburg), 08.09.2003