The space race record is now beginning to develop what appear to be a number of chinks in its armour. A report from Russia stated that Yuri Gagarin was NOT, after all, the first man into space.
Pravda, on Thursday 12 April 2001 chose Cosmonaut Day in Russia (and the anniversary of the Gagarin flight) for the release of this news. As it was also the Easter weekend break in both Russia and the west this year, this announcement was perhaps guaranteed less attention than would otherwise have been the case. However, this article is not quite as frank in its confession as it might first appear.
Gagarin was not the first ever Cosmonaut
As 40 years have passed since Gagarin’s flight, new sensational details of this event were disclosed: Gagarin was not the first man to fly to space. Three Soviet pilots died in attempts to conquer space before Gagarin's famous space flight, Mikhail Rudenko, senior engineer-experimenter with Experimental Design Office 456 (located in Khimki, in the Moscow region) said on Thursday.
According to Rudenko, spacecraft with pilots at the controls were launched from the Kapustin Yar cosmodrome (in the Astrakhan region) in 1957, 1958 and 1959.
"All three pilots died during the flights, and their names were never officially published," Rudenko said. He explained that all these pilots took part in so-called sub-orbital flights, i.e., their goal was not to orbit around the Earth, which Gagarin later did, but make a parabola-shaped flight.
"The cosmonauts were to reach space heights in the highest point of such an orbit and then return to the Earth," Rudenko said.
Laura Whitlock of NASA’s Star Child Project (a NASA web site intended for children) has stated that her own research concurs with the claim that these three test pilots were indeed those named by Pravda and albeit spelling their names slightly differently, she adds more detail regarding dates, and for Ledovsky – the maximum height achieved in orbit.
Alexis Ledovsky, late 1957, reached a height of 200 miles.
Serentyi Shiborin, flight attempt February 1958.
Andrei Mitkov, flight attempt January 1959.
Given that space starts at around 60 miles from the Earth’s surface, this additional data suggests that these flights were actually planned to reach space well before the maximum height. Another interesting point is that Kapustin Yar is very near the Turkish border.
One of the three prime reasons for moving the cosmodrome and space centre to Baikonur was because Kapustin Yar was allegedly too near to the American listening posts. So one wonders when the Americans obtained this information. It would appear that more information is available to the west than the Russian sources are inclined to release.
Then again Pravda did not see fit to mention another event that is alleged to have taken place in 1961 and only five days before the Gagarin effort.
Orthodox Easter and Easter in the west do not always coincide – but in 2001 it did just that. At 11pm on Good Friday a TV documentary Cosmonaut Cover-Up was transmitted on the UK Horizons channel. It was shown again at midnight on Easter Sunday – neither slots are prime time viewing it must be said! Yet although this documentary stated that the first man in space was not Yuri Gagarin there was no mention of the three test pilots named by Pravda – instead this documentary majored on Vladimir Ilyushin, son of Sergei, the Soviet Union’s chief aircraft designer.
Cosmonaut Cover-Up claimed that on 7 April 1961, five days before the Gagarin flight, Vladimir Ilyushin left for space, got into trouble during the first orbit, and eventually crash-landed in China during orbit number three. He was returned to the Soviet Union a year later. The Soviets hushed up the Ilyushin flight and sent Gagarin into space on 12 April 1961. Cosmonaut Cover-Up asserts that Kruschev was on holiday at the time of the Gagarin flight and was recalled to Moscow when the flight turned out to be a success. NASA’s Laura Whitlock gives a date of 9 April 1961 for this event.
Why this disparity regarding dates?
Interestingly, in 1961 Easter Sunday in the Soviet Union fell on 9 April (a week later than the west that year) so Good Friday was on 7 April and whatever the prevailing official stance regarding religious festivals, in practice many of the thoughts and emotions of the people (including those who were working within the space program) would have been privately focused upon this occasion. Indeed, apart from the Moscow rumour machine, most of the country was unaware of an imminent flight into space.
Either way, the first man into space (post the testers of the 1950s) seemingly went very quietly; so quietly that only now are the rumours being substantiated. Dennis Ogden (then Moscow correspondent for the British newspaper The Daily Worker) should feel vindicated, as should the late Lord Bruce-Gardyne of the British Daily Telegraph.
Or at least partially so. Notwithstanding the dates, there is still some degree of muddle around these events. Documentary filmmakers, if showing a reconstruction of an event generally make it clear that the viewer is watching a reconstruction and not actual footage of the event. So we can assume that all the film footage in Cosmonaut Cover-Up was the real thing, as viewers were not told otherwise. Perhaps for artistic purposes however, much of this production was not actual historical footage.
We were shown images of a remarkably unscathed and conscious man lying on a stretcher being carried away by ‘Chinese peasants’ – in direct contrast to the soundtrack which informed us that Ilyushin was badly injured. Unless the descent was announced to the Chinese in time for them to get their crews and film cameras on site, this sequence must be a reconstruction – yet viewers were not informed of this. And if that was not the case, then the story about the Chinese is certainly not complete.
Audiences were also shown images of a plane crashing very low over an airfield runway, implying that there was a camera at the location, while the narration tells of Gagarin’s death. It was not felt necessary to state that there were no recorded images of this crash, which actually happened many miles from an airfield. Nor was it felt necessary to state that there were no witnesses to this death. Within the Soviet Union, there were many doubts and a number of theories concerning Gagarin’s surprising demise and even if the producers of this documentary were intent on making a ‘realistic’ film to get their points across and reveal the truth of the situation, perhaps inadvertently, they have sown the seeds of more disinformation.
While it seems that the mist is lifting very slowly from around these monolithic events regretfully it also appears that Gagarin, Ilyushin (and all those within the planetary space program who have had to live with variations on the theme of truth) have not yet received the recognition that is rightfully theirs.
Perhaps some more mist will have to clear before we can discern the real reasons behind the synchronous release of these two stories. Each party – namely the United States and the Soviet Union – offering different accounts but both emanating from ‘opposite’ poles of the 1960s phase in the program.
Corrections to the record
The authors of Dark Moon are inclined to the view that even this ‘first cosmonaut’ story is by no means the complete picture and the fact that Pravda, seemingly making a clean breast of matters avoided any mention of Ilyushin, tends to reinforce this conclusion. This is not the first occasion that corrections to previous statements have been released gradually. On 29 January 1983 an article apparently written by the cosmonaut concerned appeared in the Soviet newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda and set out the details of the 5 April 1975 Soyuz 18 space shot. In 1996 amendments to this story were published – after nineteen years! It has taken forty years for details behind the Gagarin story to come to light.
Gradual disclosure from a number of sources reveals that anything from seven through to eleven Soviet cosmonauts have died in attempts to get a man into space and orbit the Earth. But such an admission is hardly surprising. Nothing in the realm of human endeavour is ever achieved without great sacrifice.
In April 1961, General Nikolai Kamanin, second in command of the cosmonauts apparently confided in his diary that it was as hard deciding ‘which of them should be sent to die’ as it was deciding ‘which of these two decent men should be made world famous’. The construction of his sentence indicates that the choice was wider than is immediately apparent to the casual reader. Kamanin’s choice of words suggests that he is wondering which one to be selected from all the cosmonaut candidates should be sent to die and which one of two should be made into a public figure.
The choice of two was between Titov and Gagarin. Thus Kamanin unwittingly discloses to those who would later read his diaries that it was known to the authorities that people would die – because deaths had already occurred. This diary entry also implies that over and above the tried-and-tested method of withholding information regarding their failures, there was a discreet ‘anything can happen’ acceptance running behind the official, ‘successful’ space program.
How many Americans have died in the various attempts to put a man on the Moon is not a question that NASA would ever wish to have asked – let alone have to answer. NASA required a continuous supply of funds to get the job done. Moreover, it would be logical to conclude that NASA and the US government needed a ‘space race’ to provide ‘a competition’. This situation would generate a sense of urgency mixed with national pride and secure continuity of funding from Congress.
Have these synchronous revelations concerning events of 1961 in the then Soviet Union been released now in an attempt to take some of the heat away from NASA, still suffering from the fallout following the FOX TV airing of the Apollo hoax theories? In any event, irrespective of nationality or project name, the time has surely come for all of us to break out from our protective shells of naivety. It is now time to face the reality that has governed the program to date and no longer be surprised at any new findings concerning the authenticity of the record of activities in space.
Surely, it would be reasonable to say to those who are planning our space projects that the majority of us desire to travel to Mars with integrity – not surrounded by cover-ups and the pretence that we can adequately protect our astronauts on the journey. Time is on our side and the will is there to venture into space. It is mankind’s destiny to explore with pride, not as a response to fear, greed and the desire for power.
Aulis Online, 2001
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