While the Cold War has long since ended, the effects of Soviet secrecy and mass paranoia bred rumors and conspiracy theories that are still going strong in the 21st century. Since the '60s, there has been speculation that Yuri Gagarin was not the first man in space. As per such theories, previous cosmonauts were killed, captured, or lost on their missions. While this may sound like a fringe conspiracy theory, the legend of the lost cosmonauts has more weight to it than standard tinfoil hat speculation. Given the USSR had a longstanding history of covering up deaths and disasters, it's not completely out of the realm of possibility the Soviet Union covered up botched space missions.
Several accounts of deaths and disasters, including the death of one cosmonaut during training, have been confirmed by the USSR. These incidents were kept under wraps, in some cases for almost 20 year periods. This, in addition to mysterious recordings and testimonies from authors and scientists, grants some credence to these theories. While there's no tangible proof, and many write the stories off as anti-Soviet fear mongering, believers await the day when concrete evidence of the lost cosmonauts will emerge.
According To Theories, Three Men Made It Into Space Before Yuri Gagarin
USSR cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was supposedly the first man in space. Proponents of the dead cosmonauts theory, however, think he was merely the first man to get through a mission without dying or being kidnapped by a foreign power. The dead-and/or-captured-cosmonaut theory suggests there were at least three cosmonauts in space prior to Gagarin. If true, this would radically alter the accepted narrative regarding space exploration.
Of the three, two allegedly died during their missions. In order to avoid appearing weak to the outside world, the USSR covered up these deaths. The third, Vladimir Ilyushin, is believed to have landed in China, where he was held prisoner for an indeterminate amount of time.
Two Italian Brothers Supposedly Recorded Dying Cosmonauts
Italian brothers Achille and Giovanni Judica-Cordigilia were so fascinated by the space race, they set up a listening station in Turin in the 1950s designed to capture transmissions from space crafts. The brothers made several claims during the ‘60s about picking up transmission from secret space crafts launched by the USSR.
In May 1960, the brothers claimed to have picked up messages from an unreported USSR mission. Later that year, just before Yuri Gagarin became the supposed first man in space, the brothers claimed they picked up the ragged breathing and rapid heartbeat of a dying cosmonaut. Over the following years, the brothers released unsettling recordings of what they claim are dying cosmonauts. One of the most infamous recordings was of a female cosmonaut burning up upon re-entry to the earth.
The claims of the Cordigilia brothers are met with skepticism and debate. Experts claim the amateur equipment the brothers used likely could not pick up such detailed messages. Also, experts note that a voice channel wouldn't record a heartbeat. You can listen to the recordings online and decide for yourself. Since you're an expert.
Author Robert Heinlein Claimed To Have Firsthand Knowledge Of A Soviet Conspiracy
Science fiction author Robert Heinlein contributed to the theory in a 1960 article he wrote entitled “Pravada Means Truth”, in which he claimed to have encountered a Red Army cadet while traveling through Soviet-occupied Lithuania. The cadet told him the USSR had launched a man into space that morning, but Soviet officials denied the fact later the same day. If the story is true, why would the Soviet Union announce, then promptly deny, a launch? If the mission resulted in the death of a cosmonaut, it's possible the USSR wanted to keep this failure under wraps.
Even Reports Of Confirmed Cosmonaut Deaths Were Riddled With Rumors
The Lost Cosmonaut conspiracy dominated headlines for much of the ‘60s and ‘70s, to the point rumors and speculation outshone actual news. In 1967, six years after Gagarin survived his journey into space, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed when his spacecraft’s parachute malfunctioned upon reentry. While this story is true, unconfirmed rumors surrounding the incident were reported alongside the facts.
Left-wing magazine Ramparts published an article in which it claimed to have a quote from an NSA employee who spied on Soviet communication. The employee claimed to have intercepted a recording of Kamarov’s last words, in which he bid his wife an emotional farewell before condemning the USSR. If this recording is real, where is it now and why wasn't it ever released or even acknowledged by the U.S.S.R?