Anathema didn’t only believe in leylines, but in seals, whales, bicycles, rain forests, whole grain in loaves, recycled paper, white South Africans out of South Africa, and Americans out of practically everywhere down to and including Long Island. She didn’t compartmentalize her beliefs. They were welded into one enormous, seamless belief, compared with which that held by Joan of Arc seemed a mere idle notion. On any scale of mountain moving it shifted at least point five of an alp.*
* It may be worth noting here that most human beings can rarely raise more than .3 of an alp (30 centialps). Adam believed things on a scale ranging from 2 through to 15,640 Everests.
That quote is from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, but it is also secretly about me; when I decide to believe in something there is no force on this earth that can stop me. I will watch any — any — video on YouTube with the phrase “HAUNTING,” “LAST WORDS,” or “UNDISCOVERED AMATEUR FOOTAGE” in the description. I have seen the helicopter crashing over Chernobyl upwards of fifteen times (the best part is the caption from the aggrieved uploader: “Please, no more comments about ‘radiation caused the helicopter to fall.’ The blades have hit the crane, you can definitely see this on the video! All the further comments about the ‘Radiation that caused the metal to melt’ will be removed. I am tired of this shit.”) I once spent an hour trying to convince my brother the physicist that water cannot boil twice, so I know that whereof I speak.
So when the Lost Soviet Cosmonaut theory was brought to my attention earlier this week, I was primed and ready to believe in something new.
I have, it may or may not surprise you, an account with Fortean Times Magazine, the most bonkers of all magazines
In 1960, Robert A. Heinlein wrote in his article Pravda means ‘Truth’ (reprinted in Expanded Universe) that on May 15, 1960, while traveling in Vilnius, in Soviet-occupied Lithuania, he was told by Red Army cadets that the Soviet Union had launched a man into orbit that day, but that later the same day it was denied by officials. Heinlein speculated that Korabl-Sputnik 1 was an orbital launch, later said to be unmanned, and that the retro-rockets had fired at the wrong altitude, making recovery efforts unsuccessful.
The word of Robert Heinlein is good enough for me. He gave us Starship Troopers and the word grok. I have no reason to doubt him.
Proponents of the Lost Cosmonauts theory concede that Yuri Gagarin was the first man to survive human spaceflight, but claim that the Soviet Union attempted to launch two or more manned space flights prior to Gagarin’s, and that at least two cosmonauts died in the attempts. Another cosmonaut, Vladimir Ilyushin, is believed to have landed off-course and been held by the Chinese government. The Government of the Soviet Union supposedly suppressed this information, to prevent bad publicity during the height of the Cold War.
The evidence cited to support Lost Cosmonaut theories is generally not regarded as conclusive, and several cases have been confirmed as hoaxes. In the 1980s, American journalist James Oberg researched space-related disasters in the Soviet Union, but found no evidence of these Lost Cosmonauts. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, much previously restricted information is now available, including on Valentin Bondarenko, a would-be cosmonaut whose death during training on Earth was covered up by the Soviet government. Even with the availability of published Soviet archival material and memoirs of Russian space pioneers, no hard evidence has emerged to support the Lost Cosmonaut stories.
Oh, that is exactly the right amount of evidence that I need to believe in the Lost Cosmonaut theories! This is perfect — it dovetails completely with my innate American mistrust of official Soviet records, my assumption that scientists are always keeping something horrible from us, and that the temple of human achievement is always built upon the corpses of human sacrifice.
Please spend at least two hours learning everything you can about the Judica-Cordiglia brothers, a pair of Italian ham radio enthusiasts who supposedly picked up the final moments of several doomed cosmonauts as they drifted out of orbit and into eternity.
n November 1963, the brothers said they recorded the voice of a female cosmonaut re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere in a malfunctioning spacecraft; in the recording she is heard to have cried out, “I am hot” as it burnt up.
In total the Judica-Cordiglia brothers released nine recordings over a period of four years. The details were as follows:
May 1960, a manned spacecraft reports it is going off course.
February 1961, a cosmonaut is audibly recorded suffocating to death.
April 1961, a capsule is recorded orbiting the Earth three times before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere just days before Yuri Gagarin made his historic flight.
May 1961, an orbiting spacecraft makes an appeal for help after going out of control.
October 1961, a cosmonaut loses control of his spacecraft which veers off into deep space.
November 1962, a space capsule misjudges re-entry bouncing off the Earth’s atmosphere and out into space.
November 1963, a female cosmonaut dies during re-entry.
April 1964, another cosmonaut is killed when their capsule burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Just a pair of amateur scientists bringing down the Soviet propaganda machine! This scenario has everything.
If deciding very sincerely to believe in Soviet-era conspiracy theories is not your thing (WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, have you even PLAYED S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl?), the coldest consolation I can leave you with are the two actual, documented deaths of known cosmonauts, which is still pretty cool and horrifying I GUESS.
The first is probably the closest thing we actually have to a real live cosmonaut coverup, and in my heart of hearts I must confess I know it will probably not get more exciting than this.
23 March 1961 was the tenth day of a 15-day endurance experiment in a low pressure altitude chamber at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow. The chamber’s atmosphere was at least 50% oxygen. Bondarenko, having completed work for the day, removed some monitoring biosensors from his body and washed his skin with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball, which he then carelessly threw away. The cotton ball landed on an electric hot plate which he was using to brew a cup of tea. The cotton ignited and Bondarenko tried to smother the flames with the sleeve of his woolen coveralls, which caught on fire in the chamber’s oxygen-rich atmosphere.
Because of the pressure difference, it took a watching doctor nearly half an hour to open the chamber door. Bondarenko’s clothing burned until almost all the oxygen in the chamber was used up and he had suffered third-degree burns over most of his body. The attending physician at Botkin Hospital, surgeon and traumatologist Vladimir Golyakhovsky, recalled in 1984 that while attempting to start anintravenous drip, the only blood vessels he could find for inserting a needle were on the soles of Bondarenko’s feet, where his flight boots had warded off the flames. According to Golyakhovsky, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin spent several hours at the hospital as “deathwatch officer” and Bondarenko died of shock 16 hours after the accident, less than three weeks before Gagarin’s historic Vostok 1 first spaceflight. Manned orbital flight program director Nikolai Kamanin blamed Bondarenko’s death on the Institute’s poor organisation and control of the experiment.
The Soviet government did not acknowledge Bondarenko’s death until the 1980s, and even airbrushed him out of a few official photos, which probably means there are at least fifteen more Soviet astronauts floating around in orbit right now, mouths frozen in an eternal rictus of horror. COMMUNISM JUST DOESN’T WORK IN SPACE, PEOPLE.
Vladimir Kamarov, one of Yuri Gagarin’s closest friends, who died during the failed reentry of the Soyuz 1 in 1967. WEIRDLY, a lot of the rumors that have sprung up around his death, particularly that he spent his final moments screaming in rage and frustration at the Communist government, have been pretty solidly debunked. There is, for whatever reason, a pretty straightforward explication of the facts on Christianteenforum.com (scroll down to skerpaderp‘s first post). But he still died horribly! There’s a wonderful, glorious, awful picture of his open-casket funeral out there (I won’t include it here but oh my God you should DEFINITELY Google it, there’s a trio of frowning Soviet officials looming over a twisted black curl of something), so we have that at least.
“Lost in Space,” The Fortean Times
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.