The Speculist: They Seriously Botched It, Too


Live to see it.

« Can Push Prizes Take us Back to the Moon? | Main | FastForward Radio »

They Seriously Botched It, Too

Our boys always botch it and our rockets always blow up.

Thus did Tom Wolfe, in The Right Stuff, describe the prevailing attitude about the American space program in the days leading up to Alan Shepard's historic first Mercury flight. It must have been at least a little unsettling for the Mercury seven to watch launch after launch go up (no to mention down) in a blaze of something less than glory. Here are a few examples:

Particularly frustrating was the fact that we were struggling so mightily while the Soviets had achieved the high frontier with what looked like effortless grace. First came Sputnik, then Gagarin.

Only now do we learn that perhaps there were a few chapters in between those triumphs, chapters that the tight Soviet control of information kept from leaking out until now:

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.

If true, then Ledovskikh, Shaborin and Mitkov should all be remembered as heroes of the earliest days of space exploration. And if they are named in order, then maybe Ledovskikh -- not Gagagrin -- should be remembered as the first man in space. Or maybe it was one of the other two. What we don't have right now is any indication as to how far any of them actually got.

Also, I would like to see this information confirmed by a more reliable source than Pravda, where the current online edition also features some other startling "science" information.

So stay tuned.


Several of those launches looked successful.

I wondered about Pravda, too, but on this story, I didn't see a need to doubt it.

I have even more respect for Gagarin, who went up knowing about the first three.

The Right Stuff was a truly great book which made a good movie.

Chuck Yeager's autobiography was also great. The two books are like companion volumes.

Post a comment

(Comments are moderated, and sometimes they take a while to appear. Thanks for waiting.)

Be a Speculist

Share your thoughts on the future with more than


Speculist readers. Write to us at:

(More details here.)



Powered by
Movable Type 3.2