The Phantom Cosmonaut Conspiracy

On November 28th 1960 in a disused German bunker in Torre Bert, two Italian brothers named Achille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia heard something out of the ordinary on their radio equipment It was an SOS signal, broadcast from a supposedly unmanned Russian satellite they were monitoring

But the signal seemed to be moving directly away from Earth – more like a spaceship Five months later, Yuri Gagarin was internationally hailed as the first man to enter into space But was he just the first one to come back alive? In the 1950s, during the Cold War, the Soviet Space Program achieved a number of technological victories, most notably the launch of the first orbital satellite, Sputnik 1 However, the Soviets were highly secretive Space missions were often not revealed until after they had been completed, or not at all if they were deemed failures

Even their successes were hidden behind a veil of spin One firm example is Laika, the first dog in space Soviet officials told reporters that she had survived in orbit for a week, at which point she died painlessly In fact she died hours into the journey from overheating Back in Italy, the Judica-Cordiglia brothers were making more remarkable claims about a series of recordings of Russian spacecraft

One transmission recorded in February 1961 sounded like a cosmonaut suffocating to death Another recording from November 1963 apparently features a female cosmonaut in her final moments The translation reads: “I feel hot I can see a flame Am I going to crash? Yes

I feel hot…" Space journalist and historian, James Oberg, has spent decades from the 1960s onwards researching these supposedly secret manned missions He proved that the Judica-Cordiglia’s recordings don’t relate to cosmonaut deaths, and suggests that they were possibly fabricated However, he also found separate evidence that there really was a cover-up, and that Russian cosmonauts had in fact disappeared Oberg found one press photograph of 6 elite Russian cosmonauts, and then another press photograph, taken on the same day in 1961, identical in every way, except that 1 of the cosmonauts had been erased In collaboration with Rex Hall, he went on to find a number of doctored photographs and counted 9 disappeared trainee cosmonauts

What had happened to them? Near the end of the Cold War, the Soviets adopted the policy of ‘Glasnost’ or ‘openness’ In 1986, they allowed journalist Yaroslav Golovanov to publish a series of articles relating to the Soviet Space Program The most interesting case he revealed was that of Valentin Bondarenko, who disappeared just 20 days before Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight The truth is, Bondarenko was killed on a mission He was training in a pressurized, oxygen-rich tank when he allowed a cotton swab, soaked in alcohol, to touch a hot plate

It ignited instantly Bondarenko was engulfed in flames and it took half an hour to remove him from the pressure chamber; he died in hospital 8 hours later The Soviets covered it up to leave their space record unblemished, ensuring maximum positive publicity for Gagarin’s flight Golovanov revealed three other Phantom Cosmonauts: Ivan Anikeyev, Valentin Filatyev and Grigori Nelyubov All three were kicked off the space program after they got into a fight with an army patrol

They were erased from all official photos It seems the Soviets wanted to maintain the image of their Cosmonauts as exemplary supermen This image would be sullied by Grigori Nelyubov’s antics Nelyubov died in 1966, suffering from depression – he stepped in front of a train in Siberia Research has so far only revealed a handful of Russian cosmonauts who disappeared

They didn’t vanish mysteriously in space They were deleted from history by the Soviet government in order to avoid bad press But manned Soviet flights continued throughout the 60s and 70s In 1973, the head of the cosmonaut program, Vladimir Shatalov, said that “6 or 8” cosmonauts had died in training – more than have so far been accounted for While researching a book, author Michael Cassutt requested files from the CIA concerning “cosmonaut training fatalities between 1960 and 1975”

He was denied access, but they told him that 9 such documents did exist Cassutt was able to match up the dates of the documents with a number of Soviet space missions Could there still be cosmonauts unaccounted for, their lifeless bodies floating in the endless void?

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