Patterico's Pontifications


The First Men in Space Sub-Orbital Flight? (Updated x2)

Filed under: International,Space — DRJ @ 9:23 pm

[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.

H/t Instapundit.

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.


12 Responses to “The First Men in Space Sub-Orbital Flight? (Updated x2)”

  1. Heroes made nonpersons. No big surprise. It’s Russia.

    nk (eeb240)

  2. I saw that Pravda article a few days ago from a Metafilter posting, I think. But Cecil Adams did a 2003 Straight Dope column on the subject of lost cosmonauts and doesn’t even mention that article. Apparently nobody takes those particular claims seriously, for a number of reasons, two of which come to mind:

    1. It’s the account of only 1 person.

    2. Look around Pravda’s site and you’ll see a lot of the content is on the level of the National Enquirer or the Weekly World News.

    So there’s no hard evidence to back up the claims of article. I respect Insty a lot, but he’s way off on this one. Whatever happened to skepticism about the media? ::grin::

    Jim C. (a79dbc)

  3. Rumors about this have been floating around for almost fifty years now–I wonder if Bob Newhart had them in mind when he came up with his “Rocket Scientist” routine in the early 1960’s*:

    Interviewer: So, what do you think about the Soviets trying to put a man in space?

    Werner von Werner: We already did that back in 1940–we put Hans Lobert into space.

    Interviewer: That’s remarkable–I’m sure you’ve heard about the difficulties that the Soviets and Americans have had in solving the problem of re-entry, and you had that solved all the way back in 1940.

    Werner von Werner: (long pause) What’s this problem you’re talking about?

    *–couldn’t find a transcript of the routine: rough paraphrase from memory.

    M. Scott Eiland (b66190)

  4. Gee we used monkeys, lost a few of them as well. Though we did disclose such I doubt too many can recall the name of the monkey today.

    Oh but we did lose three on the top of a rocket, and almost lost the three of Apollo 13 as well.

    Have lost 7 twice in shuttles.

    Space flight is very serious and very dangerous, even today.

    And a revelation today about some losses on experimental spacecraft being withheld from the public, dang the soviets would just NEVER do such a thing would they?

    Now lets break out the grill and hope we can all git a piece of this new falling item!

    TC (1cf350)

  5. I have serious doubts about the three “lost cosmonauts”. By now the USSR/Russia would have trumpeted them as heroes. If true, it would be a total re-write of history, with the Russians looking even better than they do now with Gagarin’s “race-winning” orbit.

    I believe the chimp in question was named after a certain un-islamic luncheon meat. Heck, my little kids know that ‘un.

    Herr Morgenholz (07b4fb)

  6. Pick up, or order on Amazon, the book
    “Fallen Astronauts – Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon “…it covers the early days of both US and USSR space programs, and those astronauts and cosmonauts that died in training accidents. One in particular, Ed Givens, was killed in an auto accident in 1967 – NASA to this day has not formally recognized him on their memorial in FL.

    You get the feeling reading the book that any one of the Americans that died could have been in the first group of men to walk on the moon – in fact it is believed that if Gus Grissom was not killed in 1967, Deke Slayton would have probably put him on the first mission to land on the moon (Slayton wanted someone from the first group to be on that flight). With his death, the crew rotation was shuffled to meet the new mission schedule, lining up Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to fly Apollo 11. (Collins was originally on the Apollo 8 crew – the first to fly to the moon, but was moved out of that crew due to neck surgery, putting Bill Anders in his place).

    fmfnavydoc (affdec)

  7. One of my uncles was connected with the Mercury and Gemini programs. I can remember ‘knowing’ full well that an unspecified number of Russian astronauts had died in space. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall whether or not he was the source of that information, but this news of Gagarin’s predecessors is not terribly surprising to me, even if all it is doing is confirming my childhood’s prejudices.

    oldirishpig (104338)

  8. Here are the names of the Russian cosmonauts that were part of the book that I mentioned in my previous post:

    Valentin Bondarenko – March 1961 fire in a isolation chamber filled with 100% oxygen under pressure
    Grigory Nelyubov – Suicide (Probably would have been third person to orbit the Earth, had falling out with head of program, drummed out of program and sent to Siberia)
    Yuri Gagarin – training aircraft accident
    Pavel Belyayev – botched surgery for an ulcer
    Vladimir Komarov – Soyuz 1 (parachute failure)
    Georgy Dobrovolsky – Soyuz 11 (spacecraft decompression on reentry)
    Viktor Patsayev – Soyuz 11
    Vladislav Volkov Soyuz 11

    fmfnavydoc (affdec)

  9. The book mentioned above, Fallen Astronauts, dismisses the Pravda claim on page 160.

    The same claim was investigated much earlier by James Oberg in 1973, and found to be without merit. See

    Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey (924c97)

  10. Like the “first powered flight,” there’s always someone trying to stretch the rules or tweak the historical record to get attention.

    WRT Gagarin, I always to prefer to say “the man who first orbited Earth in space.”

    It has been argued that both US and Soviet test pilots made it to the “space” benchmark before Gagarin. There’s even someone whose name I won’t mention to avoid giving him attention who rode a balloon to 20 miles and makes noises about that being space, which is bullcrap.

    The US says its 50 miles, a lot of flight engineers use 75 miles as the “space edge.”

    There’s also a conspiracy theory that claims that Gagarin was injured in a plane crash and another astronaut was substituted for him on the flight, but the Soviets decided to keep using Gagarin’s name and face in reports as the last-minute switch might be seen as weakness or a failure.

    Merovign (4744a2)

  11. > There’s even someone whose name I won’t mention to avoid giving him attention who rode a balloon to 20 miles and makes noises about that being space, which is bullcrap.

    Arrgh. You make it sound like somebody was doing a publicity stunt!

    In 1960 Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger rode that balloon up to 100,000 ft and then jumped out in order to “… showed scientists that astronauts could survive the harshness of space with just a pressure suit and that man could eject from aircraft at extreme altitudes and survive.”

    Kittinger jump

    This was research that was part of the space program, not a stunt!

    Arthur (fee0c2)


    krazy kagu (656fec)

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