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Lost in Space
April 30, 2009 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Lost in Space: What really happened to Russia's missing cosmonauts? An incredible tale of space hacking, espionage and death in the lonely reaches of space. "There are those who believe that somewhere in the vast blackness of space, about nine billion miles from the Sun, the first human is about to cross the boundary of our Solar System into interstellar space. His body, perfectly preserved, is frozen at –270 degrees C (–454ºF); his tiny capsule has been silently sailing away from the Earth at 18,000 mph (29,000km/h) for the last 45 years. He is the original lost cosmonaut, whose rocket went up and, instead of coming back down, just kept on going." [Via]
posted by homunculus (83 comments total) 74 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously
posted by Artw at 11:15 AM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting article! I managed to finish it in spite of having the original Battlestar Galactica theme stuck in my head after reading "there are those who believe...."
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:16 AM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's a staaaaaaaaaar man, waitin' in the sky!

seriously, this is so cool
posted by The Whelk at 11:18 AM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, if it isn't bollocks.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on April 30, 2009


He's really made the grade, and he's floating in the most peculiar way. Have the papers reported whose shirts he wears?
posted by mattdidthat at 11:23 AM on April 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


I WANT TO BELIEVE!
posted by mazola at 11:29 AM on April 30, 2009


Earth belooow us, drifting, falling, floating weightless, coming coming hoooooome....

that's all of them, isn't it?
posted by dirtdirt at 11:30 AM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I WANT TO BELIEVE!

Me, too. Really. But I get nervous about factual errors:

On 20 February1962, while John Glenn lay flat on his back inside the instrument-packed capsule Friendship 7, a buzzing Torre Bert was packed full of students, professors, children, friends, family, hangers-on and one or two shady characters (of which, more later).

For several long minutes, static streamed into Torre Bert, when suddenly Achille hissed “SSSSSSHH!” And then it came through: the voice of the first American in space: “Capsule is turning around. Oh, that view is tremendous! I can see the booster doing turnarounds just a couple of hundred yards behind. Cape is go and I am go.”

They listened as Glenn gobbled malt tablets


Glenn was the 3rd American, after Shepard and Grissom. Minor point, but getting something like that wrong impeaches the credibility of the whole thing.
posted by COBRA! at 11:32 AM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm actually finding myself less convinced that it happened after reading this article.

“It was a signal we recognised immediately as Morse code – SOS,” said Gian. But something about this signal was strange. It was moving slowly, as if the craft was not orbiting but was at a single point and slowly moving away from the Earth.

Objection: Leading the witness.

The SOS faded into distant space.

You cannot determine this from a single receiver.
They bounded into the room carry­ing their tape recorder. “After we introduced ourselves we played the tape and started filming,” Achille remembered. “When he heard the sound of Glenn’s voice calling “Mercury Control” Haussman leapt out of his seat.”

“How did you get this?” Haussman demanded, “It’s not possible!” He phoned a colleague. “You’ve gotta come and hear this.”

James Morrison, NASA’s Space Programmes Technical Director arrived minutes later. “I’ll be darned!” he exclaimed. “How did you do this?!” Turning to Haussman, he said, “We should be more careful; if they intercepted it so can the Russians.
NASA didn't know radio can be intercepted? Also, if these Italian guys can intercept Russians, why can't Americans intercept them? Surely this would have been a top priority--where are these recordings? FOIA? There's talk later in the article about secret frequencies. This was in the days before computers or even digital tuning, so I guess I can see that much maybe. Although how much of an impediment was this really?
Many sceptics have argued that it was impossible for the brothers to have listened into so many Russian space missions. It may be, as some have claimed, that the brothers sometimes felt under press­ure to produce results and were tempted to satisfy the insatiable popular demand for space stories by fabricating sensational new recordings. It’s unlikely, for example, that the soft beating sounds they once recorded were really a cosmonaut’s heartbeat as they claimed; heartbeats were broadcast from the capsules, but as electrical signals which sounded like static.

But it’s also true that the Russians always made every effort to keep their disasters secret.
Now that's just plain fallacious reasoning. Whether or not the Russians kept secrets has zero beearing on the genuineness of the recordings. And it sounds like there are serious reasons to believe that at least some recordings are hoaxes.
posted by DU at 11:33 AM on April 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


that's all of them, isn't it?

You don't think it's gonna be a long, long time
'til touchdown brings you 'round again to find
You're not the man they think you are at home?
posted by total warfare frown at 11:34 AM on April 30, 2009


Oh no, no no.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:36 AM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interesting stuff. However the paragraph quoted in the FPP is clearly bollocks. Even if the bit about attempts to launch a cosmonaut before Gagarin is true, the capsule being about to cross into interstellar space is impossible. It's a matter of orbital mechanics - you'd need a huge rocket, way bigger than anything ever launched, to produce enough delta-v to escape the Solar System. The Pioneers and Voyagers managed it only through gravitational slingshots: manoeuvres that have to be precisely targeted.

The Pravda article linked in Artw's reference says that the flights were suborbital. Most likely the capsules just smacked into the ground or the ocean - maybe the parachutes failed.
posted by Electric Dragon at 11:37 AM on April 30, 2009 [11 favorites]


More space recordings from the 50s/60s.
posted by mazola at 11:37 AM on April 30, 2009


I read this when it first came out in the physical Fortean Times magazine.

If you want to hear the audio they recorded, it's available here:

http://www.lostcosmonauts.com/default.htm


Don't know if it's true but it's sure a creepy story.
posted by edheil at 11:38 AM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's an interesting story, but the lost cosmonauts part just doesn't hold water. Particularly the parts about them just shooting off into deep space; you don't get out of earth orbit and into deep space accidentally. The only objects that have left the solar system — the Pioneer and similar deep-space probes — have done so only after very carefully-planned trajectories and lots of gravitational boosting.

It's kind of a neat story, and reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke, but physics demands that any dead cosmonauts almost certain met a more ignominious end, burning up on re-entry.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:39 AM on April 30, 2009


Previously

Thanks, I'd missed that one. Great post!
posted by homunculus at 11:40 AM on April 30, 2009




well gosh, what else can we do but trust but a reputable source like the Fortean Times? I mean, now that the Weekly World News is gone of course.
posted by happyroach at 11:41 AM on April 30, 2009


that's all of them, isn't it?

It ain't over til William Shatner sings.
posted by hal9k at 11:43 AM on April 30, 2009


My prefferred form of burial has long been a space capsule, launched at a distant star that may have an earthlike planet, packed with various textbooks of history, biology etc.

Of course, I'm afraid that upon being cloned / resurrected, my new alien friends would be profoundly disappointed in what I'd have to offer them.

"Surely you must be a great leader, or perhaps a scientist among your people!"
"uh, well, no..."
(awkward pause)
"...got any beer?"
"DISSECT HIM!"
posted by ScotchRox at 11:44 AM on April 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


well gosh, what else can we do but trust but a reputable source like the Fortean Times?

Hmmf. The Fortean Times is (at best) a reliable source on what people interested in Fortean subjects are saying about Fortean subjects. Which TBH is probably more cultrally interesting than revealing of anything that actually exists in objective reality.

WWW just made shit up.
posted by Artw at 11:46 AM on April 30, 2009


This is true, and of course he walks among us: paging Astro Zombie to your thread, paging Astro Zombie.
posted by mwhybark at 11:47 AM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Glenn was the 3rd American, after Shepard and Grissom.

Glenn was the first to complete an orbit. Shepard & Grissom's flights were both sub-orbital. They did technically make it into "space," though.

/nitpick.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:48 AM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


picked up on 28 November 1960, which they believe was an SOS transmission from a Russian spacecraft

An SOS from a spacecraft in 1960? Who exactly was in a position to come and save them?
posted by DarkForest at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ooga-booga nonsense.
posted by Floydd at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2009


This probably isn't accurate, for a fairly simple reason: energy.

Most of the early spaceflight missions were low-orbit attempts. That is, they got high enough to get above the atmosphere and really into space, but they weren't even close to being as high as even the geosynchronous satellites. They were in nearby, fast orbits, more like the shuttle or space station.

It takes a LOT of energy to move from those low orbits into Earth-escaping ones. That's why the boosters for the Moon missions were so very much larger than the earlier ones. A lot of the problem is that the fuel itself is heavy. You have to burn a huge amount of fuel to lift the rest of the fuel into the right spot. Something like 99.5% of the entire weight of space missions is fuel. Only the very last little bits actually put the payload wherever it's supposed to go.

Basically, nothing is free, and unless the Soviets were planning a moon shot, none of their failed missions would have enough energy to escape the Earth's gravity. No low-orbital mission would ever just 'wander away' like that. It's not physically possible.

It's very likely, in other words, that this is wishful thinking from people who don't quite grasp the physics of spaceflight.
posted by Malor at 11:54 AM on April 30, 2009 [14 favorites]


Right. I assume the guy that wrote the article just got confused by first up/first orbit; but like I said, getting details wrong is a Bad Thing when you're in an extraordinary claims/extraordinary evidence situation.
posted by COBRA! at 11:54 AM on April 30, 2009


Sub-orbital is technically space, but come on, not really.
posted by Artw at 11:58 AM on April 30, 2009


Inside, using discarded WWII American army equipment, they created an exact replica of Cape Canaveral, including an enormous map of the world behind a Perspex sheet along with an LED display that marked satellites’ progress.

As much as my inner space geek wants to believe this cool story, this little detail trips my bs meter. Practical LEDs weren't developed until 1962 by Holonyak at GE. Considering the snippet I quote appears to happen before Glenn's 1962 flight, it's really, really, really doubtful some kids in Italy got their hands on enough fresh-from-the-GE-labs LEDs to make a satellite tracking board.

My inner space geek, though, is willing to believe that the writer mis-spoke and the boys actually used some tiny light bulbs. Cause my inner space geek really digs the story...
posted by Thorzdad at 12:00 PM on April 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


Bullshit. A Vostok booster doesn't have the thrust to put a Vostok spacecraft into escape velocity.

(sorry, space geek here.)
posted by Mcable at 12:06 PM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another way of looking at it: getting out of the Earth's gravity is almost exactly like climbing a gigantic mountain. If you climb halfway up, which is more or less what they did, and then let go, what happens? You fall back down.

Orbits are just a trick where you add enough sideways motion so that the Earth is sliding away from underneath you at the exact same speed that you're falling down. You're still falling. That's why it's called free fall. You're just failing to hit anything.

(as Douglas Adams once wrote, flying is the art of throwing oneself headlong at the ground, and missing -- so by that definition, only orbital objects truly fly.)

So, halfway up a mountain, no matter what tricks you use to avoid falling down, you can't go any FURTHER up without expending more energy. And orbital missions don't have much extra energy, because it's expensive as hell to put it up there. So, no matter what happens, no matter how bad an accident is, the vast majority of the debris isn't going to go UP.

It's just barely possible that, if something exploded up there, you might release enough energy to get a little bit of debris into deep space. That debris might be a tiny bit of astronaut, but we'd never know for sure.
posted by Malor at 12:13 PM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's only one way to debate whether this is really true or not - a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock.
posted by Bageena at 12:16 PM on April 30, 2009


This is such bullshit, everyone knows the cosmonauts helped Ben hide the island. It's right there in front of your eyes people!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:24 PM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Okay, I didn't think about the orbit/fuel angle at all, because I too wanted to believe. The LED thing did raise an eyebrow, though.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:39 PM on April 30, 2009


- a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock.

"Captain. I will be quick and mercee-ful."
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:40 PM on April 30, 2009


Bah, we all know it's Nazis on the way to Alpha Centuri
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:45 PM on April 30, 2009


SBS in Australia broadcast this documentary about the brothers a while ago. oh how i miss sbs.
posted by dhruva at 12:50 PM on April 30, 2009


I find this pretty hard to believe. On a sheer physics level, you need a lot more fuel to leave earths orbit as you do to get into low earth orbit. Unless you were heading to the moon or mars or something. Just going into orbit, you're not going to end up leaving the solar system (or even earths orbit). On top of that, ending up in a stable orbit for even 50 years without careful planning seems unlikely too.

Malor also made this same point.
posted by delmoi at 12:50 PM on April 30, 2009


posted by Devils Rancher "Captain. I will be quick and mercee-ful."

+1000 for Arena reference

*awards Devils Rancher a bamboo cannon*
posted by mattdidthat at 12:57 PM on April 30, 2009


Oh Christ, not this again. Read the previous thread, people; pravda.ru is exactly as credible as the Fortean Times. Do we have to have this conversation every time some looney-tunes publication decides to recycle the same bullshit?
posted by languagehat at 12:59 PM on April 30, 2009


Jim Oberg, who is quoted in the article has debunked a lot of these ideas over the years. See:

http://www.jamesoberg.com/judica-cordiglia.pdf
http://www.jamesoberg.com/udica-cordiglia-2.pdf
http://www.svengrahn.pp.se/trackind/Torre/TorreB.html

(sorry pop up blocker won't let me link)
posted by spaceviking at 1:03 PM on April 30, 2009


Low altitude earth orbit explained
posted by Edward L at 1:08 PM on April 30, 2009


Here's another problem with the article, under the "How did they know when to listen?" section:

By measuring the Doppler effect, it was possible to conclude that most satellites had a rotational period of about 90 minutes around the Earth

I suppose it's possible to determine the orbital period of the satellites from the Doppler effect of their transmission, but it's completely unnecessary. It's well known that a satellite in low earth orbit has an orbital period of about 90 minutes. Basic Newtonian mechanics. No, scratch that. You don't even need Newton. Just take Kepler's third law, which Kepler came up with about 40 years before Newton was born; along with the radius of the earth, distance from the earth to the moon, and orbital period of the moon (all of which were known, to a rough approximation, by the ancient Greeks) and you can calculate the orbital period of satellites in low-earth orbit. It would be very surprising if someone as interested in spaceflight as the Judica-Cordiglia brothers are claimed to be was unaware of this basic fact, even in 1960.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:10 PM on April 30, 2009


I'm simultaneously disappointed that a fascinating story about secret knowledge is almost certainly bullshit, and relieved that those people almost certainly didn't die horribly in space that way. (Or exist at all, I guess.)

So... if it's all jive, what are those recordings? Hoaxes by the publicity-hungry Italian kids? Hoaxes by somebody else?
posted by edheil at 1:17 PM on April 30, 2009


So... if it's all jive, what are those recordings? Hoaxes by the publicity-hungry Italian kids? Hoaxes by somebody else?

The only thing that is patently impossible is the lost in deep space angle. It's still possible (maybe plausible) that the Soviets launched a couple of failed missions that burned up on re-entry.
posted by danny the boy at 1:26 PM on April 30, 2009


So the answer to my question still stands?
posted by jepler at 1:32 PM on April 30, 2009


There are those who believe that somewhere in the vast blackness of space, about nine billion miles from the Sun, the first human is about to cross the boundary of our Solar System into interstellar space.

Conceptually, this feels like it could have come from scene from the movie Heavy Metal, where, after this voice-over narration, we see the capsule slowly come into view of a planet or moon. The narratior returns and says something like "But even in the deepest reaches of space, there are forces unwilling to let go..." and the capsule would begin to flare up as it passed through some alien atmosphere while some vintage rock song blasted in the background.

Eventually it would crash into the ground and the Loc-Nar on a pyramid nearby would resurrect the cosmonaut to go on some wild adventure involving mostly naked women and drugs.
posted by quin at 1:33 PM on April 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


The narrator returns and says something like "But even in the deepest reaches of space, there are forces unwilling to let go..."

No, the narrator will be saying ... something like this
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 1:54 PM on April 30, 2009


There are those who believe that somewhere in the vast blackness of space, about nine billion miles from the Sun, the first human is about to cross the boundary of our Solar System into interstellar space. His body, perfectly preserved, is frozen at –270 degrees C (–454ºF); his tiny capsule has been silently sailing away from the Earth at 18,000 mph (29,000km/h) for the last 45 years.
His name? Ricky Ricardo. Comrade Ricky Ricardo.
posted by pracowity at 1:58 PM on April 30, 2009


*awards Devils Rancher a bamboo cannon*

I'd like to thank the Academy, and my mother... and all the cool-kids who shunned me so I could be a shut-in and obsess over my Star Trek & Monty Python. I'm here to serve Vaal.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:59 PM on April 30, 2009




They were all alone. Their voices had died like echoes of the words of God spoken and vibrating in the starred deep. There went the captain to the Moon; there Stone with the meteor swarm; there Stimson; there Applegate toward Pluto; there Smith and Turner and Underwood and all the rest, the shards of the kaleidoscope that had formed a thinking pattern for so long, hurled apart.
.....
He fell swiftly, like a bullet, like a pebble, like an iron weight, objective, objective all of the time now, not sad or happy or anything, but only wishing he could do a good thing now that everything was gone, a good thing for just himself to know about.

When I hit the atmosphere, I’ll burn like a meteor.

“I wonder,” he said, “if anyone’ll see me?”

The small boy on the country road looked up and screamed. “Look, Mom, look! A falling star!”

The blazing white star fell down the sky of dusk in Illinois. “Make a wish,” said his mother. “Make a wish.”
Ray Bradbury - Kaleidoscope.
posted by empath at 2:22 PM on April 30, 2009 [11 favorites]


In Soviet Russia.... stars are full of YOU!
posted by panboi at 2:56 PM on April 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


empath - perfect quote.

The linked article, and this thread allowed me for a while to be 10 again, trying to assemble the fiddly landing pads on a Revell model of the Apollo LEM module. Thanks for that.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:57 PM on April 30, 2009


That was the single most fascinating thing I've read thanks to Metafilter. Awesome. From the few comments I'd seen beforehand, I'd have thought the "leaving the solar system" thing featured large in the piece instead of its actual place as an intriguing intro to far more intriguing content.

Thanks for this. I must now learn everything possible about it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:25 PM on April 30, 2009


Attention freelance journalists, internet forum participants, and Ray Bradbury: STOP CAPITALIZING "MOON"!!
posted by mudpuppie at 3:27 PM on April 30, 2009


empath - perfect quote.

That story has been haunting me since I was 11, honestly.
posted by empath at 3:59 PM on April 30, 2009


...the capsule being about to cross into interstellar space is impossible. It's a matter of orbital mechanics - you'd need a huge rocket, way bigger than anything ever launched, to produce enough delta-v to escape the Solar System. The Pioneers and Voyagers managed it only through gravitational slingshots: manoeuvres that have to be precisely targeted.


And all this science I don't understand
It's just my job five days a week
posted by never used baby shoes at 4:25 PM on April 30, 2009


Bah, we all know it's Nazis on the way to Alpha Centuri

Chairman Sheng-ji Yang is not a Nazi.

Now go into the tanks. It is your final duty.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:33 PM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


A bottle of Fungicide for Durn Bronzefist!
posted by WPW at 4:47 PM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


northern Italy was the only area in Western Europe on Russia’s orbital path.
Austria and Switzerland to the north, France to the west -- the real news here is that Russia had an orbiting capsule that could completely reverse direction as it passed over Italy. The orbital path of choice for Soviet manned space shots would have taken the vehicle over Rome rather than Turin (and not coincidentally over all those US listening stations in Turkey). There are really no paths that would have included northern Italy because the Soviets preferred to have the early stages of the flight over their own territory. A trajectory that included northern Italy would put the first flight stages over China.

He used the bizygomatic index – the distance between the right and left cheek bones in proportion to the width of the face – to calculate what 1cm (0.4in) represented on the photograph.
That index is a ratio; you'd still need an absolute measurement (say, the width of the face) to extract a meaningful number from it. If you had that measurement, you wouldn't need the index. ("You can compute how many sheep are in the world by counting the legs and dividing by four.")

"Somehow, we’d managed to crack America’s top secret!"
America's top secret was the frequency of an unenciphered voice channel?

Despite being able to triangulate Russian space vehicles with a single antenna and to coax tragedies out of static, these intrepid sleuths seem to have missed the fact that Mercury Control thought Glenn's heat shield was no longer intact and he might burn up on reentry.

“We were missing two frequencies used by the Soviets and we wanted to know if NASA had them." (Lots more crap about writing stuff on scraps of paper and giving NASA new info.)
I used to be a voice intercept eavesdropping on the Soviets. We could find signals simply by turning the tuning knob on our receivers and that was narrow-band. NASA (and there's one too many letters in there) would simply put a dozen or so trained intercepts on some receivers and have all the frequency info they needed in just a few minutes.

One of the urban legends (~1974) on the base was that there was a tape stashed somewhere in Ops that contained the last messages from a cosmonaut stranded in space. He was supposedly on a spacewalk when the airlock malfunctioned and prevented him from returning to the capsule. His fellow cosmonauts had no choice but to leave him up there and return to Earth. His last messages were purportedly lots of crying and swearing at all the people who'd put him in that predicament. Everyone had heard about the tape, but only one person claimed to have heard it. The fact that he spoke no Russian didn't deter him from giving us all the details of the messages.
posted by joaquim at 5:16 PM on April 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


STOP CAPITALIZING "MOON"!!

Er, you realize you just put it in ALL CAPS, right? Isn't that, like, four times worse?
posted by The Tensor at 5:17 PM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Could LOLCATS be secretly miscapitalising things? Metafilter investigates.
posted by Artw at 5:54 PM on April 30, 2009


//There's a staaaaaaaaaar man, waitin' in the sky!
Made me think of "Major Tom" and the end of Dark Star
posted by Dub at 6:10 PM on April 30, 2009


Not to be nitpicky, mudpuppie, but since we haven't given our moon any other name (unlike, for example, Io), it is both a moon and the Moon, so why not capitalize it?
posted by misha at 6:17 PM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


the capsule being about to cross into interstellar space is impossible. It's a matter of orbital mechanics

That's a good point about orbital mechanics, but all you guys seem to be missing the obvious: The Russians must have built an anti-gravity device decades earlier than previously thought.
posted by sfenders at 6:27 PM on April 30, 2009


Yes, I feel hot. I feel hot, it’s all… it’s all hot. I can see a flame! I can see a flame! I can see a flame! Thirty-two… thirty-two. Am I going to crash? Yes, yes I feel hot… I am listening, I feel hot, I will re-enter. I’m hot!”

They were probably picking up noises from the mens room in a seedy local nightclub. That's my guess.
posted by Avelwood at 6:44 PM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not to be nitpicky, mudpuppie, but since we haven't given our moon any other name (unlike, for example, Io), it is both a moon and the Moon, so why not capitalize it?

I think we should name our moon. I propose the name Luna!
wait a sec...
posted by Avelwood at 6:47 PM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's like this. Everything you need to know about this story can be determined at the intersection of this web site and a calculator (hint - multiply by 16). It's a recreation of the Soviet/US moon race by a two teams of model rocket types. Just poke around until you find picture of these things standing up. They are teh AWESOME (as the kids say on that interweb thing). I'm not sure what the early Russian manned rockets looked like, but if the Atlas and Saturn V or anything to go by....


I'm kind of thinking if they had a rocket that could get a man out of the solar system in 1960, they'd have kind of, you know, paved the whole damn moon by time Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins stopped by.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:55 PM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


The only thing that is patently impossible is the lost in deep space angle. It's still possible (maybe plausible) that the Soviets launched a couple of failed missions that burned up on re-entry.

I'm not sure how plausible it is, but the first such possibility I heard came from Heinlein's 1960 essay, "Pravda" means "Truth":

About noon on Sunday, May 15, we were walking downhill through the park surrounding the castle that dominates Vilno. We encountered a group of six or eight Red Army cadets. Foreigners are a great curiosity in Vilno. Almost no tourists go there. So they stopped and we chatted, myself through our guide and my wife directly, in Russian.

Shortly one of the cadets asked us what we thought of their new manned rocket. We answered that we had had no news lately -- what was it and when did it happen? He told us, with the other cadets listening and agreeing, that the rocket had gone up that very day, and at that very moment a Russian astronaut was in orbit around the earth -- and what did we think of that?

I congratulated them on this wonderous achievement but, privately, felt a dull sickness. The Soviet Union had beaten us to the punch again. But later that day our guide looked us up and carefully corrected the story: The cadet had been mistaken, the rocket was not manned.

That evening we tried to purchase Pravda. No copies were available in Vilno. Later we heard from other Americans that Pravda was not available in other cities in the USSR that evening -- this part is hearsay, of course. We tried also to listen to the Voice of America. It was jammed. We listened to some Soviet radio stations but heard no mention of the rocket.

This is the rocket the Soviets tried to recover and later admitted they had had some trouble with the retrojets; they had fired while the rocket was in the wrong attitude.

So what is the answer? Did that rocket contain only a dummy, as the pravda now claims? Or is there a dead Russian revolving in space? an Orwellian "unperson," once it was realized that he could not be recovered.

I am sure of this: At noon on May 15 a group of Red Army cadets were unanimously positive that the rocket was manned. That pravda did not change until later that afternoon.



Some of the facts of the story are easy to confirm - the Russians did launch a prototype manned capsule that day, and they did make a mistake that resulted in the capsule being sent accelerated into a higher orbit instead of being decelerated to reentry. The Russians did claim the capsule was unmanned, that it didn't even have a heat shield installed.

Some of the facts are forever impossible to confirm - the spacecraft did eventually reenter (and presumably burn up) a couple years later. Nobody's going to be able to ask some now-elderly anonymous Red Army veterans where they heard their story, and for that matter nobody's able to ask a now-dead Heinlein whether he made anything up.

I think the most likely explanation is that some jingoistic military cadets heard that their country's new manned space capsule had been launched, they just assumed that it would have been launched with a man inside, and the Pravda newspaper just got delayed because even a non-lethal space race failure required rewriting news articles to update the facts and add PR spin. I'm at least 80% sure that's what happened...
posted by roystgnr at 7:50 PM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]




Because I'm proud of it, previously previously.
posted by Snyder at 10:21 PM on April 30, 2009


I actually posted this FPP in th 60s, using morse code. FROM SPACE.
posted by Artw at 11:49 PM on April 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, you're the only one who's done this in a sensible way, Snyder. The more recent posts covering the identical material should have been deleted as not only double posts but unconscionable poisoning of the well.

That was the single most fascinating thing I've read thanks to Metafilter. Awesome.


I sincerely hope you're joking, but just in case you missed it: the story is bullshit. It doesn't get any less bullshit just because people keep posting it to MetaFilter.
posted by languagehat at 5:34 AM on May 1, 2009


Not to be nitpicky, mudpuppie, but since we haven't given our moon any other name (unlike, for example, Io), it is both a moon and the Moon, so why not capitalize it?

I think we should name our moon. I propose the name Luna!
wait a sec...
posted by Avelwood


There is no god but God (and Mohammed is his prophet).
posted by Pollomacho at 6:10 AM on May 1, 2009


the story is bullshit

Which bit? The extra-solar excursion, unverified lost cosmonauts, frequency estimation, the brothers themselves? All of it? No, nothing interesting here at all.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:24 AM on May 1, 2009


Sometimes the bullshit is the interesting bit.

(Probably still worth noting that it is bullshit though)
posted by Artw at 7:27 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh damn, I so didn't want to be convinced it was a big lie. :(
posted by Salamandrous at 7:51 AM on May 1, 2009


Not to be nitpicky, mudpuppie, but since we haven't given our moon any other name (unlike, for example, Io), it is both a moon and the Moon, so why not capitalize it?

Just because it doesn't have a name, doesn't meant that 'Moon' is its proper name! I mean, you don't say "Hey, I'm going to the Lake this weekend." The word "moon" refers to that unnamed chunk of stuff that follows us around. The capital M is erroneously added to denote grandeur, but it's not very correct.

So by all means, let's name it!

(Though I'm afraid if we were to name it, it'd be through some sort of corporate sponsorship, and we'd end up with Coca-Cola's Lunar Body®.)
posted by mudpuppie at 9:01 AM on May 1, 2009


The Wikipedia article on the Moon explains that the name of the Earth's natural satellite is, in fact, "the Moon". The URL it cites as Reference 7 is now a broken link, but I believe that this link refers to equivalent information.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:42 AM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Crabby Appleton is my new hero.

When a common word is also a title, mudpuppie, it's capitalized. So, "I read about all the moons in our solar system and now I want to go to the Moon," is grammatically correct.

And NASA agrees.

nanner nanner
posted by misha at 10:34 AM on May 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


*tries to manage uncontrollable eye twitch*
posted by mudpuppie at 12:00 PM on May 1, 2009


Of course, there are subtle references dropped here and there if you know where to look. If you play the Hymn of the Soviet Union backwards, you can hear the Red Army Chorus sing "Pavel is dead, comrade. Miss him, miss him," and "Tune me in, dead man."
posted by eritain at 6:01 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


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