February 7, 2003 5:12 PM   Subscribe

Phantom Cosmonauts On November 28, 1960, a morse code transmission reading "SOS to the whole world" from an orbiting spaceship was picked up by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers with their home-made radio tracking station in San Maurizio Canavese, Italy. Sometime between February 2-4, they picked up telemetry of a dying cosmonauts heartbeat and breathing. Yuri Gagarin, the universally acknowledged first man in space, did not make his flight until April 12, 1961. These brothers claimed that they intercepted radio transmissions of other secret flights as well. Were there secret Soviet spaceflights that ended in the death of Cosmonauts? Most tend to disagree, and offer an excellent debunking. I started reading about this several weeks before the Columbia, but it now has a new poignancy. I agree that it is exceedingly unlikely that these alleged flights took, but the claims of these brothers, mingled with various other rumor and various Soviet urban legends, (along with the fact of Russian/Soviet general secrecy about most everything,) create an alternate history that is exceedingly disturbing.
posted by Snyder (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I too "agree that it is exceedingly unlikely that these alleged flights took [place]" (in other words, this story is bullshit)... so why is it "exceedingly disturbing"? You mean, like a scary fairy tale?
posted by languagehat at 6:21 PM on February 7, 2003

Dunno about you, but thinking I might be hearing telemetry of a dying cosmonaut's breathing and heartbeat is at least a little disturbing.
posted by alumshubby at 6:36 PM on February 7, 2003

languagehat, basically yes, it's a scary fairy tale. The idea of dying, alone, in space, especially when only a handful of people know what's going on, (as these supposed secret missions were like,) just freaks me out, regardless of it's truth. These stories circulate for a reason, and I think it's less about skepticism about the Soviet space program and it's associated secrecy and more about this weird kind of fear they engender. (At least for me.)
posted by Snyder at 6:36 PM on February 7, 2003

Well, we all know we never went to the moon anyways. It was all a conspiracy carried out on a hollywood set that the jews built. So really, what's the point of thinking about it?

My point is, the story in the article is just some more conspiracy theory BS that merits ignoring. Interesting in the same way that studying a serial killer's mind is interesting, but fruitless nonetheless.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:43 PM on February 7, 2003

Here is a concise, fact-filled summary of the case for Illyushin being the first man in space (from one of Snyder's sources). Illyushin was a real person. The gist is that, although the case for Illyushin cannot be shown to be false, it can be shown to be unlikely and hinging primarily on hearsay. And, keep in mind that is is probably one of the strongest cases.

Also, i dont see mentioned that transmissions from Gagarin were monitored by the U.S. at the time. Would not this have also been true for any earlier cosmonauts?

Thank you Snyder for this interesting post.
posted by vacapinta at 6:53 PM on February 7, 2003

Great post Snyder. And all the internal posts too.

while I had heard about alot of this stuff, it was terrific to get it all in one fell swoop. I have been reading for a couple of hours.

posted by lampshade at 7:55 PM on February 7, 2003


your pseudonym reminds me of something relevant here: IIRC, Heinlein writes in his memoir of his trip to russia in the early sixties that he heard rumors from some people there that there had been an attempt at putting somebody in space before gagarin, but that the launch had failed and the authorities claimed that only dogs were aboard. (How's that for rumor-mongering? 4th hand at least!)

I don't have the book in question anymore, so I can't give a reference. Does anybody else remember this passage?
posted by Mark Doner at 8:08 PM on February 7, 2003

A recent Straight Dope column on the subject
posted by kmel at 8:36 PM on February 7, 2003

Did anybody check out this link:
If you scroll down, near the bottom it mentions that a former USSR official claimed that dummies were flown in test missions prior to 1961 and these dummies often flew with tape recordings to simulate two-way communication. Maybe those recordings were real after all, they were just pre-taped. Actually, the idea of the Soviets flying dummies in space ships makes me think that they are making up stories to cover up the truth.
My father was highly involved in several major Soviet projects that dealt with new types of electronics etc, he was an engineer (although I am not so I can't go into more detail). From what he's told me of his experience, I could believe just about anything.
posted by crazy finger at 10:10 PM on February 7, 2003

I admit I scare pretty easily, but, well, basically, what alumshubby said. I listened to the recordings of that guy's supposed dying heartbeat and last breaths (a couple of hours ago, actually) and real or not, they gave me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies that I have yet to shake.
posted by zztzed at 10:22 PM on February 7, 2003

"[...]USSR official claimed that dummies were flown in test missions[...]"

Space Flight for Dummies?
posted by spazzm at 12:23 AM on February 8, 2003

Just one question... did The Russians announce Yuri Gagarin's trip before the launch?

If they did, then I'd doubt that there were any previous 'lost' flights.

If they didn't then I'm open to be convinced...
posted by twine42 at 1:43 AM on February 8, 2003

(tips shot glass full of Bushmills in zztzed's general direction)
posted by alumshubby at 4:51 AM on February 8, 2003

in k-19: the widow maker, liam neeson makes an inspirational speech, like a scary morality tale to teach his children a lesson about duty: "it is said there was a cosmonaut before gagarin, who was not loyal enough to hold his breath when his life support system failed." omon ra's a great satire of the soviet mindset and the race to the moon. hey: i can't get to the lostcosmonauts site. get off the internet right now, mister. i wanna get on.
posted by steef at 7:09 AM on February 8, 2003

I appreciate the thanks, vacapinta and lampshade. I hope to make other posts in a similar vein, and I'm glad that you (and others) found this interesting.

Anyway, in reference to whether Gagarin's flight transmissions were intercepted by U.S. listening posts, the answer, according to this article (along with some other interesting facts,) is yes. IIRC, the Soyuz 1 launch that claimed the life of Vladimir Komarov was monitored by U.S. listening posts, as well as other flights, at least as much as could be monitored by ground stations.

To answer twine42's question, I do know that early in the Soviet space program, flights were not announced until the craft had reached orbit. This was the case in the Vostok 1 launch, and I'm not sure when Russia stopped doing this. This doesn't lead any more credence to the claims of missing cosmonauts, because while the launches themselves were not announced before hand, they were during the flight. Unless there was some policy change that made the Soviet space program more open after any failed flights, it becomes no more likely that there are any secret dead cosmonauts.
posted by Snyder at 9:30 AM on February 8, 2003

Forgot to add this: The site has a tendency to go down abruptly. It seems to be back up at the moment, but if anyone can't get on, it can be reached through the internet archive, and I can send anyone the realaudio files mentioned above, if they want.

(Also, to satisfy my inner nit=picker, the sentence fragment "...according to this article (along with some other interesting facts,) is yes," should read "...according to this article, (which also has some other interesting facts,) is yes.")
posted by Snyder at 9:37 AM on February 8, 2003

Mark Doner: The book might have been Tramp Royale, the little known expose of his and his wife's trip around the world. Alas, I don't have it with me at school....I don't recall ever reading such a passage, but I will keep my...eyes..out...

I'm ashamed I don't know it. ;-)
posted by lazaruslong at 1:58 PM on February 8, 2003

As a kid I had a friend who's dad had been a CIA mole at a listening post somewhere on the Soviet border. He could listen and tell how the Soviet oil industry was doing just by the vibrations coming through the earth from trucks. He could hear which driver was driving (by tells in the technique), the last time the oil had been changed, that the right front tire needed changing because of that exta thud from a nail burying itself deeper into the tread and the quality of gas they were burning. Now, if we had guys sitting on the border listening to that, do you not think we would have guys listening to radio broadcasts from space? Besides that, wouldn't you think that the CIA would have loved to leak that sort of info to the world press? Maybe they did leak it, through these "independent" Italian brothers? Oh, wait now I'm second guessing myself! All I know is my friend's dad was terrible to play games with because he could tell by your breathing if you had any 6's or not!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:24 AM on February 10, 2003

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