Are there Ghosts in Space? How many Astronauts Died in Space? Are there lost Russian Cosmonauts?
Are there ghosts in space? shortly after the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1 on October 4th 1957, rumors swirled that several cosmonauts had died during missions gone horribly wrong, and their spacecraft had drifted out of Earth’s orbit and into the vast reaches of the universe.
It was easy to believe such stories at the time. After all, the United States was facing off against the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and the thought that the ruthless Russians would do anything to win the Space Race, including sending cosmonauts to their doom, seemed plausible.
However, numerous researchers have investigated the stories and concluded that, though the Soviet space program was far from perfect and some cosmonauts had in fact died, there are no dead cosmonauts floating in space.
The earliest rumors of deceased cosmonauts mentioned their names and the dates of their doomed missions. in fact, by the time Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in April 1961, the alleged body count exceeded a dozen.
So prevalent were these stories that the Reader’s Digest reported on them in its April 1965 issue. Key to the mystery were two brothers in Italy who operated a homemade listening post with a huge dish antenna. Over a seven-month period, the brothers claimed to have overheard radio signals from three troubled Soviet spacecraft:
On November 28th, 1960, a Soviet spacecraft supposedly radioed three times, in Morse code and in English, ”SOS to the entire world.”
In early February 1961, the brothers are alleged to have picked up the sound of a rapidly beating heart and labored breathing, which they interpreted to be the final throes of a dying cosmonaut.
On May 17th, 1961, two men and a woman were allegedly overheard saying, in Russian, “ conditions growing worse. Why don’t you answer? we are going slower… the world will never know about us.”
Of course at that time the news media in the Soviet Union was a black hole. One reason rumors of dead cosmonauts were so believable was the extremely secretive nature of the early Soviet space program. Whereas the United States touted its program as a major advance in science and its astronauts as public heroes, the Soviet Union revealed little about its program or the people involved.
It’s not surprising, then, that the Soviet Union did not report to the world the death of Valentin Bondarenko. He was a cosmonaut who died tragically in a fire after he tossed an alcohol-soaked cotton ball on a hot plate and ignited the oxygen rich chamber in which he was training. he died in 1961, but it wasn’t revealed publicly until 1986.
Adding to the rumors was the fact that other cosmonauts had been mysteriously airbrushed out of official government photographs. However, most have been removed because they had been dropped from the space program for academic, disciplinary, or medical reasons, not because they had died during a mission.
One cosmonaut, Grigoriy Nelyubov, was booted from the program in 1961 for engaging in a drunken brawl at a rail station; he died five years later when he stepped in front of a train. Nelyubov’s story, like so many others, was not made public until the mid-1980s.
Only one Soviet Cosmonaut is known to have died during an actual space mission. In 1967, Vladimir Komarov was killed when the parachute on his Soyuz 1 spacecraft failed to open properly during re-entry. A Russian engineer later acknowledged that, Komorov’s mission had been ordered before the spacecraft had been fully debugged, likely for political reasons.
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