Freaky Friday – Lost Cosmonauts

Today’s Freaky Friday isn’t about Cosmonauts that were edited out of Soviet photos for misbehavior, expelled from program, and medical reasons.  Which is interesting in and of itself but is hardly Freaky given the well know editing of the May Day parade reviews in the 1960s and 1970s were how the West got clues as to who was in favor and who was out. What is is about is the idea that there deaths in the Soviet space program that were covered up except for a pair of Italian brothers who happened to record their transmissions with improvised radio equipment they built to listen in on the Soviet space program.

First off who were these brothers?  Achille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia lived near Turin (yes of the Shroud fame) and were radio enthusiasts.  They got into building their own radio receivers and transmitters.  By 1957 they had moved into an abandoned German bunker near Turin where they cobbled together their own experimental listening station having taken interest in the burgeoning space programs of the USA and USSR.

Using public information and mathematics they estimated telemetry of both Sputnik and Explorer 1. Their calculations had to be pretty good because they claim the did pick up transmissions from both.  Encouraged they continued onward with their hobby of trying to be ear witnesses to the space programs. The years continued and they had other successes such as picking up Liaka the Soviet dog that died orbiting the earth.

They confirmed the Bochum Radioastronomical Observatory in the West Germany claim that  Yuri Gagarin was not the first man in space but rather there had been at least one cosmonaut that sent out a morse code SOS that from calculations seemed to be drifting away from earth. Two days later Soviets acknowledge a failed space attempt they swore was unmanned.  Later the brother did pick up Gagarin’s flight and some of his conversations with ground control.

Then it started getting really strange.  These claims came only from the brother and did not have other institutions that watched the Soviet space program confirm their recordings. In May 1961 they recorded a panicked woman speaking Russian.  She states she is hot and can see flame.  She is concerned for integrity of her ship. The transmission is cut off and the brothers thought she had burned in re-entry.  You can hear the transmission here and read an english translation. I have not found other places that TASS claimed a satellite reentry but it is in the link below.

The brothers ceased listening the mid 1960s. Achille went on to become a cardiologist. Giovanni continued with his radio and recording interests to become a surveillance specialist for the Italian police.

So the question is did the brothers really record cosmonauts that we don’t know about in history? Did they fake it? Did they fall for a fake?

First off there’s the issue of the Russian spoken. It’s not a natural parlance I understand from native Russian speakers and reading impressions from professional translators. There is awkward phrases formed in ways that a speaker just wouldn’t do. The side that feels these are real say it’s panic from burning alive on reentry her thoughts are racing and her speech doesn’t keep up with the terror she’s experiencing.

Next there is proper protocol in the recorded message. There is no attempt to keep proper communication form. Now I haven’t heard the supposed recordings from successful Gagain mission. I’ve only heard this one and again the argument is she’s burning to death and terrified so protocol is out the window.

With the glasnost declassification of USSR space documents researchers were able to assess the technology capabilities at the times of the various sessions the brothers claimed to have heard or recorded. There is doubt the Soviets had technology that could have the power to break orbit and drift into deep space as they claimed the SOS was drifting.

Also the Soviets did acknowledge failures in the program at the time. Why acknowledge 1967 death of Vladimir Komarov but cover up the death of the woman in May of 1961? Why were records not found in the glasnost time if the various versions of the edited cosmonaut photos and names of those removed were found? It doesn’t make sense.

So did the brothers fake it? The theory goes they wrote the scripts in Italian then used a Russian dictionary to translate phonetically getting a female to record the act. They did it given the attention their confirmation of the observatory’s findings got them. That they embellished the findings there to make it sound more exciting.

Another theory is that someone else was faking it and the brothers picked up the transmission. Who would fake it and why? One idea is Russian radio trolls trying to discredit the brothers. Another is other radio enthusiasts jealous of the brothers did it to make them look like fools.

If the transmission was real why didn’t others pick it up. The best of various governments radio labs were doing their best to listen in on the Russian program. Why didn’t they record this? If they did why didn’t they come out to support the brother’s finding and embarrass the hell out of the Soviets on the world stage?

In the end the general consensus among various astronomers and those who listen to space is that it was a hoax of some sort. Recently there have been more favorable to the brothers coverage of the recording but it is a better story for selling than hey two Italian bros fell for a hoax or pulled a hoax in the early 60s.

So we are left with just what did the Judica-Cordiglia brothers record? Were there deaths in the Soviet Space program that were covered up? Were some of the edited out cosmonauts that supposedly committed suicide really victims of failed attempts?

My opinion is the brothers fell for a hoax on the recording above. They may have embellished their confirmation of the observatory’s statement. Still the idea there is a dead cosmonaut still heading out into deep space appeals to the science fiction fan in me, the possible stories play in my head. The recording of the woman does the same. In the end they are stories, stories that make us wonder. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing.

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