[Guest post by DRJ]
This 2001 Pravda article on the first men in space may end up as a footnote in history but it’s news to me:
“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 Ledovskikh, Shaborin and Mitkov 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. According to his information, Ledovskikh, Shaborin and Mitkov were regular test pilots, who had not had any special training, Interfax reports.
“Obviously, after such a serious of tragic launches, the project managers decided to cardinally change the program and approach the training of cosmonauts much more seriously in order to create a cosmonaut detachment,” Rudenko said.”
I grew up in the main years of the space race and everyone was fascinated with news about the space program – either because of pride in American accomplishments or concern about the Soviet’s. Chief among those accomplishments was the ability to bring astronauts/cosmonauts home alive so it’s little wonder the Soviets didn’t make this public, but I think it makes NASA’s early accomplishments that much more impressive.
UPDATE 1: In other space news, watch out for an uncontrollable US spy satellite the size of a small bus and containing hazardous materials that will fall to Earth in February or early March. Here’s my favorite part, where they explain past falling satellites were directed to a controlled re-entry (which is not possible in this case):
“In 2002, officials believe debris from a 7,000-pound science satellite smacked into the Earth’s atmosphere and rained down over the Persian Gulf, a few thousand miles from where they first predicted it would plummet.”
Heh! The prediction missed by only a “few thousand miles” or as Maxwell Smart would say “Missed it by THAT much.”
UPDATE 2: Several comments raise serious doubts about this story.