Soviet cosmonauts perish in reentry disaster

Soviet cosmonauts perish in reentry disaster

The three Soviet cosmonauts who served as the first crew of the world’s first space station die when their spacecraft depressurizes during reentry.

On June 6, the cosmonauts Georgi Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev were launched into space aboard Soyuz 11 on a mission to dock and enter Salyut 1, the Soviet space station that had been placed in orbit in April. The spacecraft successfully docked with the station, and the cosmonauts spent 23 days orbiting the earth. On June 30, they left Salyut 1 and began reentry procedures. When they fired the explosive bolts to separate the Soyuz 11 reentry capsule from another stage of the spacecraft, a critical valve was jerked open.

One hundred miles above the earth, the capsule was suddenly exposed to the nearly pressureless environment of space. As the capsule rapidly depressurized, Patsayev tried to close the valve by hand but failed. Minutes later, the cosmonauts were dead. As a result of the tragedy, the Soviet Union did not send any future crews to Salyut 1, and it was more than two years before they attempted another manned mission.

READ MORE: The Space Race: Timeline, Cold War & Facts

Vladimir Komarov

Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov (Russian: Влади́мир Миха́йлович Комаро́в , IPA: [vlɐˈdʲimʲɪr mʲɪˈxajləvʲɪtɕ kəmɐˈrof] 16 March 1927 – 24 April 1967) was a Soviet test pilot, aerospace engineer, and cosmonaut. In October 1964, he commanded Voskhod 1, the first spaceflight to carry more than one crew member. He became the first Soviet cosmonaut to fly in space twice when he was selected as the solo pilot of Soyuz 1, its first crewed test flight. A parachute failure caused his Soyuz capsule to crash into the ground after re-entry on 24 April 1967, making him the first human to die in a space flight. [1]

Komarov was one of the most highly experienced and qualified candidates accepted into the first squad of cosmonauts selected in 1960. He was declared medically unfit for training or spaceflight twice while he was in the program, but his perseverance, superior skills, and engineering knowledge allowed him to continue playing an active role. During his time at the cosmonaut training center, he contributed to space vehicle design, cosmonaut training, evaluation and public relations.

Very Eerie: Female Soviet astronaut made recordings in space right before she died

It is safe to say that being an astronaut and traveling to space is not for the weak. Just think, those astronauts are up there alone for an extended amount of time. Think of all of the things that could go wrong. After all, not all space missions were perfect and glitch-free.

There was a very bizarre accident that no one can explain, even to this day. It involves one Soviet cosmonaut’s last moments in space during the beginning of the Space Race, between the United States and the USSR.

Many remember when the first trip into orbit was successful and when the first man walked the moon. On April 12, 1961, Russia was successful on sending the first human being into Earth’s orbit. The pilot, Yuri Gagarin, manned the Vostok capsule. The United States then followed in Russia’s footsteps a month later and sent their own astronaut, Alan Shepard, on a sub-orbital mission during the Mercury space program. Sensing this was a competition, Russia was prepared to send another man up to space. However, this time they would be sending him into multiple orbits, beating Gagarin’s record.

Yuri Gagarin saying hello to the press during a visit to Malmö, Sweden 1964.

The story is that the Soviets had planned to launch the mission before the Americans could send up a second astronaut to circle the Earth. American John Glenn would finally achieve that mission on February 20, 1962. However, the next manned Vostok orbital launch would happen on May 16, 1961. The capsule ended up achieving 17 circuits around the Earth.

Although the Russians had already topped the Americans by achieving the 17 circuits around Earth, they decided to top one more thing: sending the first woman into space.

During the mission everything seemed to be going well. However, before the woman could re-enter the atmosphere, something went terribly wrong. Whatever happened next is unexplained and no one knows what happened for sure. It will send chills through anyone reading these records.

Although these records are not exactly proven to be accurate, the story goes that by the time re-entry was attempted, it had been a full week. By that point the ship’s oxygen supplies were running low and were nearly depleted. There was one conversation recorded before the woman suddenly disappeared from the radio. The woman ended up calling into the radio (translated of course):

“listen… listen! come in! come in… come in… talk to me! talk to me! I am hot… I am hot! what? forty- five? what? forty-five? fifty? yes… yes… breathing… breathing… oxygen… oxygen… I am hot… isn’t this dangerous? it’s all… yes… how is this? what? talk to me! how should I transmit? yes… what? our transmission begins now… forty-one… this way… yes… I feel hot… I feel hot… it’s all… it’s hot… I feel hot… I can see a flame… I can see a flame! I feel hot… I feel hot… thirty-two… thirty-two… forty-one… am I going to crash? yes… yes… I feel hot… I feel hot! I will re-enter…”

It appears that the re-entry was not going well. It seemed that the ship was gaining too much heat as the poor woman was slowly being burned alive by the increasing temperatures. She also begins to get emotional towards the end, knowing that her fate would be coming soon.

Soviet Vostok program in the early 1960s. – By Pline – CC-BY-SA-2.5

After that last recording, the radio fell silent nothing was heard from the woman. Three days later on May 26, 1961 the Soviets announced that the ship had made it back to Earth. The ship had been severely burned with no woman inside. The satellite was about the size of a bus and its launch had never been disclosed. To this day, the Russian government denies that a tragedy ever happened. They keep passing off the radio recordings as the media trying to get attention.

It is said that the Russians have several recordings from lost astronauts over the years. Like the case of this woman, they continue to deny that those people were ever up in space.

Soviet cosmonauts perish in reentry disaster - HISTORY

Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images The crew of the Soyuz 11 mission (left to right: Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski, and Viktor Patsayev) on the day of the launch, June 6, 1971.

June 30, 1971. The Soviet retrieval team anxiously awaits the return of the Soyuz 11 cosmonauts in a remote region of Kazakhstan. A nearby recovery helicopter spots the scorched parachute of the spacecraft’s descent module as it plummets toward Earth. After making their way to the crashed module, the would-be rescuers open the hatch and reveal a gruesome discovery: the dead bodies of cosmonauts Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev.

By all accounts, until that moment, the Soyuz 11 mission had gone perfectly. The team had spent more than 23 days in orbit, during which time they had occupied history’s first space station.

Their successful mission would stand as a triumphant rebuttal to the U.S. accomplishment of putting a human on the moon. The Soviets would regain the international fame they had not enjoyed since the historic launch of Sputnik (history’s first artificial satellite) on Oct. 4, 1957.

However, these hopes dissolved into infamy in 1971, as the Soyuz 11 cosmonauts and would-be heroes all returned to Earth dead.

The sudden and untimely deaths of these three cosmonauts quickly became the subject of intense debate. Tom Stafford, the chief of NASA’s astronaut corps, believed that the physiological stress of their long flight is what caused the cosmonauts’ demise. NASA physician Chuck Berry theorized that it was not a physiological cause, but that a toxic substance of some kind found its way into the descent module.

However, the United States would not learn the official cause of why the Soyuz 11 cosmonauts died until The Washington Post reported on the mission in October 1973.

Ultimately, the conclusion was that a ruptured breathing valve caused the men to die of decompression, which is the result of a sudden, large drop in air pressure, causing the air in your lungs to expand and tear the delicate tissue of the vital organs. Decompression also vaporizes the water in the soft tissues of your body, thus producing a certain amount of swelling. The continued leakage of gas and water vapor would lead to a dramatic cooling of the mouth and airways. The water and dissolved gas would create bubbles that impede blood flow.

After 60 seconds, blood circulation would come to a stop, your brain would be starved of oxygen, and you would fade into unconsciousness.

What the Soyuz 11 cosmonauts experienced in their final moments would not have been a painless end. The unexpected drop in pressure would have exposed them to the vacuum of space.

Although the official autopsies from the Burdenko Military Hospital remain classified, it is not difficult to surmise what symptoms they would have undergone. First, they would have felt an intense pain in their chest, abdomen, and head. Then their eardrums would have ruptured, and blood would have begun spilling out of their ears and mouths. During this, the men would have remained conscious for about 60 seconds.

With the men dead, Soyuz 11’s impeccable landing was completely automatic, as the capsule ran a programmed re-entry with no need for living pilots. Their deaths transpired 104 miles above the atmosphere, cementing their status as the only human beings to have ever died in space.

After this look at the Soyuz 11 disaster, check out 29 interesting space facts that prove Earth is boring. Then, take a wondrous look at 21 amazing pictures of Earth from space.

8. Valery Bykovsky

Valery Bykovsky (on the left) made space exploration history in June 1963, when he completed the longest solo endurance flight ever, aboard the Vostok 5 spacecraft. Amazingly, this is a record that still stands to this day. Bykovsky orbited the Earth a total of 82 times in four days, 23 hours and 54 minutes, traveling a total of 2,060,000 miles.

Bykovsky soared into space twice more during his career, aboard Soyuz 22 and Soyuz 31 spacecraft, respectively. The Soyuz 22 mission launched on September 15, 1976 and lasted nearly eight days. The objective of the mission was to take pictures of Earth with a special camera, for research purposes. The flight also included the study of plants and fish in space and the effects of cosmic rays on the human eye.

Ivan Ivanovich and the Persistent Lost Cosmonaut Conspiracy

On March 25 1961, in the countryside not far from Perm, an ancient city in the heart of Soviet Russia, an ejector seat parachuted from a space capsule. A recovery crew, aided by local villagers, eventually located the craft’s snowbound crash site and its passenger. Who was this mysterious space traveler? No human being had yet flown in space. Could it come from another world? Or even worse, perhaps it came from the decadent West? The previous summer, an American U-2 spy plane had been shot down and its pilot, Gary Powers, paraded before the world media. What if this mysterious visitor was a spy?

The loud noise that heralded the craft’s reentry sounded like an anti-aircraft rocket. The officials warned the curious away, stating it was just a dummy. When rescuers finally reached the ejector seat, they rushed to the lifeless figure in a strange flight suit. And there he sat — Ivan Ivanovich (the Russian equivalent of John Doe). Affixed to Ivan was a sign with a single word: MAKET (model). Ivan was a dummy. A cinematographer employed to record the flight recalled the frustration of the volunteer rescuers when they discovered they’d expended all that effort for a dummy. Ivan wasn’t welcomed to Earth with a salute or a bouquet of flowers as later cosmonauts would be, instead he received a punch to the face.

Ivan Ivanovich flew aboard Korabl Sputnik 5, part of a test program designed to pave the way for the Soviet Union’s Vostok program, the crewed effort they hoped would beat the Americans by launching the first human being into space. This was the second flight of a flight test dummy. The first, using Ivan’s identical twin, had taken place earlier that month on March 9.

The Soviet program was renowned for its secrecy. Information about flights was carefully controlled. On the one hand, this meant the Soviets were able to use this cloak of mystery to appear one step ahead of the game it’s easier to say you’re on track if you don’t set a public deadline. On the other hand, it created a climate where rumor and speculation flourished. In this atmosphere of limited information, intense anticipation over the prospect of human spaceflight, and Cold War fears, a rumor took root: The Soviets had covered up deaths in space —the Lost Cosmonaut Conspiracy.

The rumors began in the late 1950s, but grew in volume during the Korabl-Sputnik program. They drew on garbled retellings of the recovery of Korabl-Sputnik capsules, and the engrained depictions in the US of the Soviets as secretive and untrustworthy. With each retelling they became more astounding. Cosmonauts had been killed on impact, driven mad in space, doomed forever to circle the Earth when their capsules refused to re-enter. In May 1960, the tenacious anti-communist senator Henry Jackson alleged that the official designation of the Korabl-Sputniks as unmanned were an elaborate cover-up for a series of disastrous failed crewed missions. The Soviets revealed little about their future plans. Korabl-Sputnik was part of a colossal, intensive effort to prepare for the first manned Vostok flight, but to many observers, Soviet secrecy and denials merely proved they had something to hide.

Amateur radio enthusiasts got in on the act the Judica-Cordiglia brothers from Italy achieved considerable notoriety with their repeated stories of intercepting Lost Cosmonaut transmissions. They managed to parlay their fame into a game-show performance where they won a trip to the US to visit NASA facilities.

On April 12 1961, several weeks after Ivan’s flight, a grinning 27-year-old Soviet Air Force officer, Yuri Gagarin, became the first human space traveler aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1. America had barely recovered from the shock of Gagarin’s flight when Gherman Titov, sometimes known as the poet of space, became cosmonaut number two in August of that year. If anything, the cacophony of confusion and recrimination that followed these flights intensified the Lost Cosmonaut rumors. It was only when President John F. Kennedy confirmed that the flights had actually taken place that many Americans reluctantly acknowledged Titov and Gagarin as genuine space pioneers and not elaborate publicity ruses.

Nevertheless, the barrage of propaganda that accompanied each new Soviet space spectacular, and the nigh-impenetrable shroud of secrecy about how those flights were accomplished, meant the Lost Cosmonauts continued to pop up like unexpected phantoms on a ghost train ride throughout the heated space race years of the 1960s. The Washington Post columnist Drew Pearson depicted himself waging a one-man war against Kremlin secrecy, penning numerous columns about supposed Soviet space disasters. Reports became increasingly elaborate: mixed-gender crews of doomed Soviets were apparently heard lamenting, “Remember us to the Motherland! We are lost! We are lost!” as they realized rescue was impossible and their spacecraft had become their tombs.

So potent was the Lost Cosmonaut Conspiracy that it impacted on the reporting of genuine Soviet space disasters such as the death of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov when his Soyuz 1 spacecraft’s parachute malfunctioned during reentry in 1967, and the deaths of the Soyuz 11 crew in 1971 during another reentry accident. The left-wing magazine Ramparts, which thrived in the mistrust of the Watergate era, quoted a supposed ex-NSA eavesdropper who’d apparently overheard Komarov exchange a tearful farewell with his wife and an angry denunciation of the Soviet system to Mission Control and the Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin. Littered with far-fetched and dubious details, this account nevertheless shows how influential the Lost Cosmonauts were.

The Soviets were aware of the rumors their secrecy encouraged, and they knew their rivals were prepared to think the worst of them. Ivan’s flight was needed to test the microphone and transmission system for future cosmonauts. But to use a recorded human voice risked fanning the flames of the Lost Cosmonaut stories. One technician suggested using a record of singing. Singing in space? The designers countered, the Western eavesdroppers would assume the cosmonaut had gone mad. A compromise was settled on, a recording of a choir. Even the gullible Capitalists wouldn’t assume the ship could fit a choir in it, and a recording of a recipe for borscht would also be used. So Ivan Ivanovich flew around the world alternately singing and declaiming a recipe for beetroot soup.

The Lost Cosmonaut rumors have been persuasively debunked as far back as the mid-1960s. It is now known that the Soviets did cover up disasters and accidents within the space program, but there is no evidence to suggest they ever covered up any deaths in orbit. In 1960, a launch pad explosion of an unmanned rocket killed the important Soviet Air Force official Marshal Mitrofan Nedelin, and approximately 120 other personnel. Additionally, a cosmonaut trainee Valentin Bondarenko died in a horrific fire in the oxygen-rich atmosphere of an isolation test chamber. The growing openness of “Glasnost” in the USSR in the 1980s exposed these disasters to both a Soviet people who were hungry for the truth, and to curious American experts. The impact of Glasnost in rewriting Soviet history was so great that in 1988 Soviet high school history exams were cancelled because revelations about the past had rendered their textbooks useless. However, amidst the torrent of startling revelations about the chaos and infighting of the Soviet space program that lurked behind its pristine public façade, there was no evidence to corroborate the Lost Cosmonauts theory.

While Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova were feted and celebrated as heroes, Ivan was locked away for decades in a secret museum, inaccessible to the public. The billionaire businessman, philanthropist, and presidential candidate Ross Perot purchased a large amount of Soviet space memorabilia at auction in the 1990s. It was with that collection that Ivan made his way to his current home at the Smithsonian, out of the shadows and, finally, face to face with the public — a reminder of the extreme distrust that flourished between the USSR and the West during the Cold War.


Position Cosmonaut
Commander Georgy Dobrovolsky
Only spaceflight
Flight engineer Vladislav Volkov
Second spaceflight
Research engineer [1] Viktor Patsayev
Only spaceflight

Backup crew Edit

Original crew Edit

Crew notes Edit

The original prime crew for Soyuz 11 consisted of Alexei Leonov, Valeri Kubasov and Pyotr Kolodin. A medical X-ray examination four days before launch suggested that Kubasov might have tuberculosis, and according to the mission rules, the prime crew was replaced with the backup crew. [11] For Dobrovolski and Patsayev, this was to be their first space mission. After the failure of Salyut 2 to orbit, Kubasov and Leonov were reassigned to Soyuz 19 for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975. [ citation needed ]

The callsign Yantar (amber) was used. The Soyuz 7K-OKS spacecraft was launched on 6 June 1971, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in central Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Several months earlier, the first mission to the Salyut, Soyuz 10, had failed to successfully dock with the station. [12] During the first day of the flight, manoeuvres were made to effect a rendezvous with the unmanned Salyut (1971-032A). When Soyuz 11 was 6 to 7 km from Salyut, automatic devices took over and in 24 minutes closed the gap between the two ships to 9 m and reduced the relative speed difference to 0.2 m/s. Control of the ships went from automatic back to manual at 100 m. Docking took 3 hours 19 minutes to complete and involved making the connection mechanically rigid, engaging various electrical and hydraulic links, and establishing air-tight seals before locks could be opened. When the pressure was equalized between the ships, the locks were opened and all three members of the crew passed into Salyut 1. [1] Soyuz 11 successfully docked with Salyut 1 on 7 June 1971 and the cosmonauts remained on board for 22 days, setting space endurance records that would hold until the American Skylab 2 mission in May and June 1973. [8]

Upon first entering the station, the crew encountered a smoky and burnt atmosphere and after replacing part of the ventilation system spent the next day back in their Soyuz until the air cleared. Their stay in Salyut was productive, including live television broadcasts. A fire broke out on day 11 of their stay, causing mission planners to consider abandoning the station. The planned highlight of the mission was to have been the observation of an N1 rocket launch, but the launch was postponed. The crew also found that using the exercise treadmill as they were required to twice a day caused the whole station to vibrate. Pravda released news of the mission and regular updates while it was in progress. [ citation needed ]

On 29 June 1971, the crew loaded scientific specimens, films, tapes, and other gear into Soyuz 11, then transferred manual control back from Salyut 1 to Soyuz 11 and returned to their ferry craft. Undocking occurred at 18:28 GMT. Soyuz 11 flew co-orbit for a while and retrofired at 22:35 GMT. The work compartment and service module were routinely cast off prior to entering the dense atmosphere. Radio communications abruptly ended at the moment of separating the work compartment (about 22:47 GMT), before the normal ionospheric blackout. Automatic systems landed the craft safely at 23:16:52 GMT. The total flight duration of the crew was 570.22 hours and involved 383 orbits—18 prior to docking, 362 docked, and 3 after undocking. On reaching the landing site and opening the hatch, the helicopter rescue crew discovered all three men dead in their seats. The official investigation results showed that the men died of pulmonary embolisms when the imperfect seal of the hatch between their command module and work compartment permitted the air supply to evacuate in the seconds after the two crafts separated. [1]

  • Mass: 6,565 kg (14,473 lb) [13]
  • Perigee: 185.0 km (115.0 mi) [3]
  • Apogee: 217.0 km (134.8 mi)
  • Inclination: 51.6°
  • Period: 88.3 minutes

On 29 June 1971, after an apparently normal reentry of the capsule of the Soyuz 11 mission, the recovery team opened the capsule to find the crew dead. [8] [14] [15]

Kerim Kerimov, chair of the State Commission, recalled: "Outwardly, there was no damage whatsoever. They knocked on the side, but there was no response from within. On opening the hatch, they found all three men in their couches, motionless, with dark-blue patches on their faces and trails of blood from their noses and ears. They removed them from the descent module. Dobrovolsky was still warm. The doctors gave artificial respiration. Based on their reports, the cause of death was suffocation". [16]

It quickly became apparent that they had asphyxiated. The fault was traced to a breathing ventilation valve, located between the orbital module and the descent module, that had been jolted open as the descent module separated from the service module, 12 minutes and 3 seconds after retrofire. [17] [18] The two modules were held together by explosive bolts designed to fire sequentially in fact, they had fired simultaneously. [17] The explosive force of the simultaneous bolt firing caused the internal mechanism of the pressure equalisation valve to loosen a seal that was usually discarded later and which normally allowed for automatic adjustment of the cabin pressure. [17] The valve opened at an altitude of 168 km (104 mi), and the resultant loss of pressure was fatal within seconds. [17] [19] The valve was located beneath the seats and was impossible to find and block before the air was lost. Flight recorder data from the single cosmonaut outfitted with biomedical sensors showed cardiac arrest occurred within 40 seconds of pressure loss. By 15 minutes 35 seconds after retrofire, the cabin pressure was zero, and remained there until the capsule entered the Earth's atmosphere. [17] Patsayev's body was found positioned near the valve, and he may have been attempting to close or block the valve at the time he lost consciousness. An extensive investigation was conducted to study all components and systems of Soyuz 11 that could have caused the accident, although doctors quickly concluded that the cosmonauts had died of asphyxiation. [17]

The autopsies took place at Burdenko Military Hospital and found that the cause of death proper for the cosmonauts was haemorrhaging of the blood vessels in the brain, with lesser amounts of bleeding under their skin, in the inner ear, and in the nasal cavity, all of which occurred as exposure to a vacuum environment caused the oxygen and nitrogen in their bloodstreams to bubble and rupture vessels. Their blood was also found to contain heavy concentrations of lactic acid, a sign of extreme physiologic stress. Although they could have remained conscious for almost 40 seconds after decompression began, less than 20 seconds would have passed before the effects of oxygen starvation made it impossible for them to function. [16]

Alexei Leonov, who would have originally commanded Soyuz 11, had advised the cosmonauts before the flight that they should manually close the valves between the orbital and descent modules as he did not trust them to shut automatically, a procedure he thought up during extensive time in the Soyuz simulator. However, Dobrovolsky, Volkov, and Patsayev either chose to disregard his warnings or else forgot about them during the lengthy mission. After the flight, Leonov went back and tried closing one of the valves himself and found that it took nearly a minute to do, too long in an emergency situation with the spacecraft's atmosphere escaping fast. [16]

The Soviet state media attempted to downplay the tragic end of the mission and instead emphasized its accomplishments during the crew's stay aboard Salyut 1. Since they did not publicly announce the exact cause of the cosmonauts' deaths for almost two years afterwards, United States space planners were extremely worried about the upcoming Skylab program, as they could not be certain whether prolonged time in a micro-g environment had turned out to be fatal. However, NASA doctor Charles Berry maintained a firm conviction that the cosmonauts could not have died from spending too many weeks in weightlessness. Until the Soviets finally disclosed what had really happened, Berry theorised that the crew had died from inhaling toxic substances. [16]

A film that was later declassified showed support crews attempting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the cosmonauts. [20] [21] It was not known until an autopsy that they had died because of a capsule depressurisation. The ground crew had lost audio contact with the crew before reentry began and had already begun preparations for contingencies in case the crew had been lost. [5]

The cosmonauts were given a large state funeral and buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis at Red Square, Moscow near the remains of Yuri Gagarin. [8] United States astronaut Tom Stafford was one of the pallbearers. They were also each posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal. [16]

United States president Richard Nixon issued an official statement following the accident: [14]

The American people join in expressing to you and the Soviet people our deepest sympathy on the tragic deaths of the three Soviet cosmonauts. The whole world followed the exploits of these courageous explorers of the unknown and shares the anguish of their tragedy. But the achievements of cosmonauts Dobrovolsky, Volkov and Patsayev remain. It will, I am sure, prove to have contributed greatly to the further achievements of the Soviet program for the exploration of space and thus to the widening of man's horizons.

The Soyuz spacecraft was extensively redesigned after this incident to carry only two cosmonauts. The extra room meant that the crew could wear Sokol space suits during launch and landing. The Sokol was a lightweight pressure suit intended for emergency use updated versions of the suit remain in use to the present day. [16]

The Soyuz 11 landing coordinates are 47°21′24″N 70°07′17″E  /  47.35663°N 70.12142°E  / 47.35663 70.12142 which is 90 kilometres (49 nmi) south-west of Karazhal, Karagandy, Kazakhstan, and about 550 kilometres (297 nmi) north-east of Baikonur. At the site was placed a memorial monument in the form of a three-sided metallic column, with the engraved image of the face of each crew member set into a stylized triangle on each of the three sides near the top. The memorial is in open, flat country, far from any populated area, within a small, circular fence. [22] In 2012, the memorial was found to have been vandalized beyond repair, with only the base of the metallic column remaining and any roads leading to it overgrown. [23] However, in 2013, Russian space agency Roscosmos restored the site with a redesigned monument, reflecting the three-sided form of the original but this time constructed from brick. Also placed at the site was a sign explaining the history of the location and the fate of the original monument. [24]

Craters on the Moon were named after the three cosmonauts: Dobrovol'skiy, Volkov, and Patsaev. The names of the three cosmonauts are included on the Fallen Astronaut commemorative plaque placed on the Moon during the Apollo 15 mission in August 1971. To honour the loss of the Soyuz 11 crew, a group of hills on Pluto is also named Soyuz Colles.

In the city of Penza, Russia, near the school-gymnasium No.39, in honour of the dead astronauts, a memorial stele was made with quotes from the poem by the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko "Between our Motherland and you is a two-way eternal connection" (Russian version: "Между Родиной нашей и вами – двусторонняя вечная связь") [25]

A series of postage stamps of Ajman [26] and Bulgaria [27] were issued in memory of the cosmonauts in 1971.

The Recording

One of the most notable pieces of “evidence” that’s connected to this theory is a sound recording allegedly captured by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers in May of 1961. In this recording, a female voice can be heard speaking Russian and screaming. The recording then fell silent, indicating that the woman had died. The translation of what the woman was saying is roughly:

“listen… listen! come in! come in… come in… talk to me! talk to me! I am hot… I am hot! what? forty- five? what? forty-five? fifty? yes… yes… breathing… breathing… oxygen… oxygen… I am hot… isn’t this dangerous? it’s all… yes… how is this? what? talk to me! how should I transmit? yes… what? our transmission begins now… forty-one… this way… yes… I feel hot… I feel hot… it’s all… it’s hot… I feel hot… I can see a flame… I can see a flame! I feel hot… I feel hot… thirty-two… thirty-two… forty-one… am I going to crash? yes… yes… I feel hot… I feel hot! I will re-enter…”

via the Vintage News

However, other accounts of the brothers’ recordings do not list this recording in May of 1961. A recording they claimed to have caught in November 1963 contained a female cosmonaut dying during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. I would think the brothers would loudly advertise the May 1961 recording had they captured it – it would have been proof that Valentina Tereshkova had not been the first woman in space, after all. It would have been a scandal. But perhaps they had some incentive to keep it under wraps. Now let’s take a look at the other supposed sources for this infamous theory.

(Sputnik, launched into orbit in 1957 as a part of the USSR Space Program. Because I don’t know what other photo to post here.
via Wikipedia)

The dark side of the Soviet space program: 3 tragic disasters

In the early 1960s the space race between the two superpowers became more intense, but the Soviet Union was clearly the leader. However, after initial successes with the launch of Sputnik and sending the first man into outer space, the Soviet Union began to lag behind. The U.S. was boosting its space program and the Soviet leadership needed new achievements to counter the Americans.

In this context, Moscow put its hopes in a new spacecraft, Soyuz, which replaced Vostok spaceships that took Yury Gagarin into orbit in 1961. Soyuz was developed as a part of the Soviet program to reach the Moon.

Soviet cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union Vladimir Komarov

While by 1967 the new spaceship was still not entirely ready, the country&rsquos leadership didn&rsquot want to wait any longer. In April that year, the spacecraft&rsquos first launch was planned, as well as the first-ever space link with another ship, Soyuz 2, which was to be launched soon afterwards . According to plans, two members of the team would transfer to Soyuz 1, and then return to Earth.

Despite the fact that Soyuz 1 was still an untested project, the rocket launch went ahead. Onboard was an experienced cosmonaut, 37-year-old Colonel Vladimir Komarov. When Soyuz reached its orbit, however, problems started. The launch of Soyuz 2 was scrubbed, and Soyuz 1 had to return to Earth.

The navigation system broke down, and Komarov had to steer the craft manually. He managed to start the descent on the correct trajectory, and when everyone thought the worse was over the main parachute that should have slowed the falling capsule did not open. Komarov died due to injuries sustained from impact .

&ldquoWe discovered Komarov&rsquos body one hour after we started to clear the debris. At first, it was hard to distinguish where was his head, arms and legs. Apparently, Komarov was killed when the craft hit the ground, and the fire turned his body into small pieces that were 30 by 80 centimeters,&rdquo wrote one of the officials in charge of the rescue mission. Until now, it is not known for sure why the parachute didn&rsquot open. Komarov&rsquos death was the first space flight fatality.

A second disaster in 1971 took the lives of three Soviet cosmonauts - Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsaev &ndash who were the first men to enter the world&rsquos first space station, Salyut 1. The cosmonauts arrived at the space station on June 7, 1971, and stayed there until June 30. The mission was supposed to be longer, but a fire broke out, and they left earlier than planned.

Rocket booster carrying the Soyuz 11 spaceship on its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome

At first, the return of Soyuz 11 went well, and there were no problems with parachutes. However, when the rescue mission located the capsule after landing, there was no response from inside. When rescuers forced open the hatch, &ldquothey found all three men &hellip motionless, with dark blue patches on their faces and trails of blood from their noses and ears. &hellip Dobrovolsky was still warm,&rdquo recalled Kerim Kerimov, the chair of the State Commission that carried out the investigation of the incident.

The Rescue team did CPR on the cosmonauts, but they were already dead. The autopsy showed that the cause of death was capsule decompression and consequent asphyxiation.

The tragedy was caused by a problem with a breathing ventilation valve that opened in the capsule at the altitude of 168 kilometers. Within seconds the pressure in the descending capsule had been lost. The position of the bodies led investigators to conclude that until the very last moment the men tried to stop the leak of oxygen from the capsule, but didn&rsquot have enough time.

Soyuz 11 spaceship Test Engineer Viktor Patsayev, Flight Engineer Vladislav Volkov, and Crew Commander Georgy Dobrovolsky (L-R) after a training session inside a simulator

Due to the tragedy, it took 27 months to launch the next Soyuz spacecraft, whose design was changed, reducing the crew to two because three people could not fit with space suits on. From then onwards, cosmonauts wore them during re-entry in order not to repeat Soyuz 11&rsquos terrible fate this would allow them to survive in case of decompression.

3. Tragedy at Plesetsk Cosmodrome

This tragedy had the worse death toll, with scores of people killed by an explosion at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

On March 18, 1980, a launch was planned of the Vostok-2M rocket, which was carrying a military spy satellite. The rocket was considered to be extremely reliable, and this rocket class had only registered one incident in 16 years, and there had been absolutely no problems since 1970.

The monument on the cemetery devoted to the Plesetsk tragedy

Before launch, the rocket was checked and no defects found. However, during fueling, a fire broke out and tons of fuel began to burn. Fortunately, the workers at the launch pad managed to remove the fuel trucks from the area, otherwise the tragedy would have been even worse.

Officials said 44 people died in the fire, and four more later succumbed to their injuries. The State Commission blamed those in charge of fueling, but 16 years later an independent commission exonerated them, claiming that the true reason for the fire was the materials used in fueling filters.

The fire at the Plesetsk launch pad, however, was not the only such incident in the USSR. A similar tragedy occurred at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in 1960. You can read about it here.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

Lost Cosmonauts: The Tombs in Space

Did lost cosmonauts make it into space before Yuri Gagarin?

On Wednesday April 12th, 1961, the Soviet Union announced that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first man to journey into outer space.

Overnight, the 27-year-old became a national hero and the most famous man in the world, his achievement recognized in front page headlines from Washington to Beijing.

For the Soviets, this was a spectacular validation of the communist system. They had beaten the capitalist Americans to yet another crucial space milestone and demonstrated their technological supremacy to the world.

Gagarin was the perfect face of the USSR. A committed communist, he was also young and photogenic. For Russian leader Kruschev, this major propaganda coup could hardly have gone better.

But not everyone was convinced. Right from the first announcement, there were question marks about the story the Soviet press agencies were putting out.

Several days previously, Western correspondents in Moscow had been tipped off that a successful flight had already taken place. Soviet state TV cameras had even moved in to film them reporting the news.

But the news never came, not until Gagarin’s flight was announced on the 12th. The notoriously secretive Soviets seemed to be spinning the story.

Then the Daily Worker, a British communist newspaper with connections in the Kremlin, reported on the 12th that the launch had actually occurred the previous Friday.

The newspaper claimed, according to its sources, that the flight was a success, but the return to Earth had gone wrong and the cosmonaut had landed far off course and was badly injured.

Was this the reason for the cover-up? Unlike their rivals at NASA, the Soviet space program was run on a military basis and operated under intense secrecy.

It also had a history of covering up its mistakes. It seemed unlikely the Soviet leadership would want to invite the eyes of the world on its achievement if it had gone partially wrong.

If this earlier flight had succeeded in putting a man into orbit, then who was he? Numerous press reports at the time intimated it was a famous test pilot called Vladimir Ilyushin.

Unlike the rookie Gagarin, Ilyushin was the USSR’s most experienced and decorated test pilot. His father was also a famous aircraft designer with close ties to the Kremlin.

Ilyushin, rather than Gagarin, was the obvious choice for such a prestigious mission. But what if the mission was not entirely successful?

In a climate of propaganda and secrecy, could the Soviet leadership really countenance such a perceived embarrassment been revealed to the world?

It is therefore not far-fetched to suggest that Illyushin’s conjectured and ill-fated flight was therefore airbrushed out of official Soviet space history.

But could the truth be far darker than mere cold war paranoia?

Just weeks before Gagarin’s supposed first space flight, two Italian brothers based at an experimental listening station in Turin claimed to have picked up something truly chilling.

It was the sound of a cosmonaut suffocating to death as his capsule spiraled off into space. If genuine, the first man in space never even made it back to Earth.

As for Yuri Gagarin, he never flew into space again. After his initial fame faded, his life begun to spiral out of control. He started to drink and his behavior at official functions was often an embarrassment to the party.

Gagarin died in a mysterious jet crash in 1968, itself subject to many conspiracy theories. Was his sad downfall a consequence of living with a terrible lie?

Had a lost cosmonaut beaten him to the crown of the first man in space?

Evidence for

Rule by secrecy

Whilst the Soviet Union trumpeted its achievements in space around the world, it was studious in concealing its mistakes.

From huge disasters to minor indiscretions, the leadership would airbrush anything regarded as embarrassing, figuratively and often literally, out of the historical record.

In October 1960, at least a 150 people were incinerated on a launchpad after an explosion of an R-16 ballistic missile.

The disaster, later named the Nedelin catastrophe after the chief marshal of the artillery who was killed in the accident, was quickly shrouded in a veil of official secrecy.

It wasn’t until 39 years later, in 1989, as communism began to fall, that the truth was finally acknowledged by the Soviet government.

The death of young fighter pilot Valentin Bondarenko in a fire during cosmonaut training in 1961 was also concealed by the USSR until 1986.

At the other end of the scale, Cosmonaut Grigory Grigoryevich Nelyuboff was expelled from the program for brawling, and his image was subsequently airbrushed out of official photographs.

There were also numerous reports of pre-Gagarin cosmonauts perishing in attempted manned space flights.

In 1959, renowned German rocket scientists Hermann Oberth, then working for the US, quoted American intelligence reports detailing a number of failed manned space launches.

According to the reports, at least 1 cosmonaut died in 1957 or 58, and possibly others in 1959. This coincided with intelligence coming out of Czelovakia which told a similar story.

According to the Czech leak, 4 cosmonauts perished in doomed launches — Aleksei Ledovsky, Andrei Mitkov, Sergei Shiborin and Maria Gromova.

The possibility that these unfortunate men and women may still be floating in the cold of deep space, their capsules having become their tombs, is a deeply disturbing one.

But some extraordinary evidence that emerged from Italy appeared to support this unsettling prospect.

The Italian connection

In the late 1950s, two Italian brothers, Achille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia became fascinated by the early space endeavors of the Soviets and Americans.

The pair, keen amateur radio buffs, were excited about the prospect of trying to capture and record transmissions from these early missions.

Using borrowed and scavenged equipment, they set up a listening station in an old WW2 bunker on the outskirts of Turin that they dubbed Torre Bert.

Over the coming years, the station would record thousands of hours of flight telemetry and voice communications from Sputnik, Vostok, Explorer and numerous other Soviet and American programs.

In 1960, the brothers made headlines in Italy and around the world with their claim that they had heard communications from secret, clandestine Russian space launches.

What made this so sensational was, according to the brothers, the cosmonauts involved had died in space.

In May 1960, they first picked up communications from what appeared to be an unpublicised manned Soviet flight. If so, presumably it had failed to return its occupants to Earth alive.

Interesting corroboration for this came from writer Robert A. Heinlein, who heard of such a manned attempt from Russian soldiers whilst traveling in Vilnius in May 1960.

Later that year, Torre Bert tracked a faint SOS signal from a craft that seemed to be departing Earth’s orbit. Again, if this recording was genuine, we would have to assume the men had not survived.

Then, just weeks before Gagarin’s putative flight, the brothers claimed to have captured the forced breathing and rapid heartbeat of a dying cosmonaut as his spacecraft faltered in Earth’s orbit.

Were these lost cosmonauts, like those mentioned in the earlier American and Czech intelligence reports?

The station in Turin continued to pick up broadcasts of apparently doomed Soviet missions for the next few years, including the desperate last words of a female cosmonaut before she burnt up on re-entry.

In 2001, a senior engineer on the Soviet space program came forward to confirm what the brothers had seemingly caught on tape.

Mikhail Rudenko told Pravda that spacecraft with pilots named Ledovskikh, Shaborin and Mitkov were launched from the Kapustin Yar cosmodrome in 1957, 1958 and 1959.

“All three pilots died during the flights, and their names were never officially published,” Rudenko said.

But not everything the listening station picked up was so horrific. One transmission seemed to suggest someone else had made it into space and back just days before Gagarin’s official flight.

Vladimir Ilyushin

Vladimir Sergeyevich Ilyushin was Russia’s greatest test pilot and holder of multiple speed and altitude records.

For those skeptical of Yuri Gagarin’s claim to be the first man to travel into space, Ilyushin is the most likely alternative. Or, at least, the most likely alternative that made it back to Earth alive.

Ilyushin was named as the ‘true’ first man in space by foreign journalists in Moscow in the days surrounding Gagarin’s purported historical flight.

Denis Ogden of the British Daily Worker and French journalist Eduard Bobrovsky were amongst the first to identify Ilyushin and many others soon followed, supposedly on the basis of inside information.

Ilyushin had the perfect credentials for the part. He was the son of a legendary aircraft designer — Sergei Ilyushin and a decorated test pilot in his own right. The family also had impeccable links to the Soviet establishment.

His whereabout around the time of Yuri Gagarin’s flight were shrouded in mystery. In all the fanfare and pomp surrounded the Gagarin triumph, Ilyushin — one of the countries great heroes, was nowhere to be scene.

The official story had it that his absence was because he had had a car crash the previous month and was recovering in hospital. However, this was only the first of many stories.

Throughout the aftermath of the Gagarin flight, the Soviet state press agencies, so adept at propaganda, seemed unable to give a consistent account about Ilyushin.In reaction to the foreign press stories that he had been the true first man in space, the Soviets simply denied he was even a cosmonaut.

However, in the month’s before Gagarin’s flight, news that Ilyushin was in cosmonaut training had already made it to the Soviet press. There was even a photograph of him in a space suit published in the newspapers.

The details of Ilyushin’s supposed crash also changed numerous times. Now it was so serious that it had put him in a coma for almost a year, making it impossible for him to have undergone the cosmonaut training at all.

This too was undermined by another photograph that appeared showing him looking decidedly conscious and healthy during this time whilst receiving the Hero of the Soviet Union award.

The reason for his prolonged pubic absence also evolved. The new story had Ilyushin recuperating from his car crash in China, an explanation that raised many eyebrows amongst seasoned foreign correspondents in Moscow.

The Soviet healthcare system in 1961 was extensive and of a high standard. It sounded deeply unlikely that it would send such a prestigious figure to a foreign country for treatment.

Where these unconvincing and shifting accounts simply a cover for the truth the journalists had been reporting all along?

And was the strange story of Ilyushin’s absence designed to hide the embarrassing fact that, whilst he had made it into space and back, he had landed miles off course in mainland China?

Evidence against

The recordings

The famous Judica-Cordiglia recordings represent perhaps the most compelling evidence for the theory that other cosmonauts made it into space before Gagarin.

The brothers became extremely famous in the Italian press because of their recordings and were subject to many national and international newspaper reports.

However, some science writers and space experts who have examined the Italian brother’s evidence have cast doubt on the veracity of their claims.

Several aspects of the brothers recordings did not match known technical and operational details of the Soviet space program, such as the correct communications protocols used by the cosmonauts.

Their recording of a craft leaving Earth’s orbit was obviously suspect as the Soviets had no ability to leave orbit in 1961. They did not achieve this capability until 1969.

The famous tape with an audible heartbeat supposedly from a dying cosmonaut is also unlikely to be genuine, as the Russians did not broadcast such information across audio channels.

But perhaps the biggest problem with the brother’s claims is the fact nobody else was able to reproduce them.

Whilst the set up at Torre Bert was superb for amateurs, it paled in significance compared to the far more sophisticated radio monitoring arrays set up by the Americans, British, French, and Germans.

Yet such powerful installations as Jodrell Bank in the UK and the American’s huge listening station in Turkey had not observed the Russian failures claimed by Torre Bert.

Bernard Lovell, director at Jodrell Bank, wrote in 1963 — “We have no reason to believe that there have been any unsuccessful manned space attempts by the USSR”.

We could surmise that Lovell was lying, but to what purpose? For the West to forgo the immense propaganda value of exposing Russian lies and failures at the height of the cold war seems improbable.

By the early 1960s, the Americans were lagging far behind the USSR in the space race and such an opportunity to exploit the reckless indifference to human life of the Soviets would have surely been taken.

The obvious conclusion is the Judica-Cordiglia brothers had, at best, made a mistake. Some have suggested that their recording of a dying cosmonaut was actually one of the many dogs the Soviets sent up into space.

A less charitable explanation is the brothers had fabricated the communications and the whole thing was a hoax. Some of the events they claimed to have captured tended to support this.

In particular, the recording purporting to be a female Cosmonaut’s last words as she burns up on re-entry contains poor Russian, broken grammar and many gibberish phrases.

Soviet cosmonauts were renowned for been extremely well educated and the idea that they would send someone into space with such a poor command of their own language is unlikely.

In contrast, the Judica-Cordiglia brother’s own sister had begun to learn Russian in order to help them with translations of the tapes. Her level of Russian was much more consistent with the voice on the tapes than a genuine cosmonaut.

Whilst there is no doubt the brothers had made genuine recordings, had they fabricated the more sensational tapes in order to keep themselves in the limelight?

Misplaced confidence

One curious fact seriously undermines the idea that the Soviets had covered up earlier, failed manned space flights.

If they were so intensely paranoid about even minor failures becoming public, would they have alerted the world to Gagarin’s flight whilst he was still in orbit?

The Soviet space authorities actually announced Gagarin’s feat 30 minutes before the landing, and even prepared press releases in case his flight landed off course and they would require international assistance.

Clearly, the Kremlin took a pragmatic view of the prospect that a cosmonaut’s re-entry into Earth may go wrong, especially with the possibility that they may end up in a foreign country.

It therefore makes little sense that they would have gone to such lengths to cover up Ilyushin’s supposed off course landing just 5 days before.

The Ogden story

Some critics have questioned the original source of the story that Vladimir Ilyushin was the real first man in space.

Since 1961, almost every version of the theory has been based on the same April 11th newspaper article in the British communist newspaper the Daily Worker.

Journalist Dennis Ogden was responsible for the story, and always claimed to have based it on a reliable inside source. But since he refused to name it, it was impossible to verify the information.

Many critics think Ogden’s source was really a figleaf to cover the fact he had jumped to a rather embarrassing conclusion.

Ogden was a neighbor of Ilyushin and had noted his public absence. When, a few days before Gagarin’s flight, he had heard rumors of a launch, he simply had a journalistic hunch it was Ilyushin on board.

The story was little more than a guess on Ogden’s part. A guess that was reported around the world and is still cited as evidence of a cover-up 50 years later.

That Ogden himself had little confidence in his own scoop is obvious. The very next day he wrote a story in the Daily Worker proclaiming Gagarin as the first man in space after all.

Watch the video: Τι δουλειά έχει ένας αστροναύτης στο βυθό της θάλασσας;