Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Smoke and fire and noise. What's not to like?

Jennifer has posted some historical facts on a subject near and dear to my heart - the Space Race.

People know about the three American astronauts who died tragically in the Apollo 1 fire; Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee. Many people also know, as told in The Right Stuff, about the loss of the Liberty Bell 7. The book and later movie left the impression that Gus was at fault for the hatch blowing, causing the capsule to fill with water and sink. What doesn't seem to be common knowlege is that Gus Grissom was later completely exonerated in that incident because technicians did indeed prove that "It just blew". Gus was also the only one of the original seven astronauts to be selected to fly in all three programs; Mercury, Geminii, and Apollo.

There have been persistant rumors of multiple Soviet cosmonaut fatalities. This snippet is from Launchspace magazine, Oct/Nov 98, in an article by Keith Stein entitled "A Tribute to Our Fallen Heroes" (sorry, no online link available, but another supporting reference below).

Rumored Failures

NASA was considering releasing the following record of Soviet manned space flight failures reported by tracking stations and intelligence sources in 1963:

-Cosmonaut Serenty Shibori, a Soviet Air Force officer, launched into space from the Kasputin Yar site near the BLack Sea in Feb. 1959. Signals were supposedly monitored from the United States for 28 minutes and then lost. If true, this would be two years before Maj. Yuri Gagarin's historic flight on Apr. 12, 1961, making Shiborin the first man in space.

-Cosmonaut Col, Piotr Ivanovitch Dolgov, launched Oct. 11, 1960. Signals were heard for 30 minutes then went dead.

-Frantic transmission "world-SOS-SOS" were picked up on Nov. 28, 1960, from a voice believed to be that of an unidentified Soviet cosmonaut. Then the signal faded.

-On Feb. 2, 1961, Western tracking stations measured the breathing and heartbeat of another unidentified Soviet cosmonaut for almost an hour. Then, the signals disappeared.

-Cosmonaut Vassilievitch Dowodovosky launched Apr. 7, 1961. Signals were lost almost immediately after launch.

-Two persons (one may have been female, according to European intelligence reports) launched together in the same capsule May 17, 1961. Launching signals were heard and conversation monitored for two minutes, then silence.

According to one PBS special on early space rocket launches, one Vladimir Ilyushin supposedly preceded Yuri Gagarin. There are a couple of rumored launches above that don't have names accredited so he may be there assuming that the above account is true or accurate.

Below is a quote by Robert Fortune:

Makes one realize the risks a Cosmonaut/Astronaut takes when they choose to ride a rocket.

Rocket Scientist: "You want to take a trip into outer space?"
Cosmonaut/Astronaut: "Sure"
Rocket Scientist: "Well, you might die rather violently"
Cosmonaut/Astronaut: "Uh, hmmm, okay. When do I go?"

Another source for information about these supposed tragedies leaves the question open.

So, are all the flights on these lists rumors, or are some true? Rudenko's claim has the ring of truth in it because the Soviets were notorious for rewriting history and airbrushing people out of official photographs, if they didn't want the world to know they existed. Published articles and books (notably by James Oberg) have documented this deception. In one example, a "class photo," of a group of space test pilots, was modified over the years as the members died in accidents.

Chilling stuff. The opportunity to be a hero to the Motherland, with the possibility of being buried forever amongst failures never admitted.