The Lost Cosmonauts (or Phantom Cosmonauts) conspiracy theory

Rumors have been circulating since the 1960s about an alleged cover-up by the Soviet Union of a series of dramatic deaths in space. Although there is no record of it in the archives and testimonies of the time, it is certain that many accidents, even serious, were hidden for years.
The alleged Soviet cosmonauts, who died in the course of space missions but whose existence has never been confirmed by objective evidence, are known as lost cosmonauts or phantom cosmonauts.

The alleged deceased cosmonauts:

Suborbital flights

  1. Alexei Ledovsky (November 1957)
  2. Serenti Šiborin (February 1958)
  3. Andrei Mitkov (January 1959)

Orbital flights

  1. Gennady Zavadovsky (May 1960)
  2. Ivan Kačur (September 1960)
  3. Pëtr Dolgov (October 1960)
  4. Aleksis Gračov (November 1960)
  5. Gennadiy Mikhailov (February 1961)
  6. Ludmilla Serakovna or Tokova (May 1961)
  7. Aleksis Belokonov (May 1962)

Dead in training

  1. Nikolai or Anatolij Tokov
  2. N.K. Nikitin

Lost cosmonauts

Official data

According to official reports, four Russian cosmonauts died on a mission: Vladimir Komarov in 1967 due to the crash of his Soyuz in a bad landing and Victor Patzaev, Georgij Dobrovol'sky and Vladislav Volkov in 1971 due to a sudden depressurization during the return to the Land.
To them must be added other victims of accidents, such as the dramatic one that occurred in 1957 at the Cosmodrome of Baikonur, when a rocket exploded on the launch pad killing a hundred people. In that case, the authorities imposed secrecy on the incident and the first detailed reports only came in the late 1980s.
Many historical missions did not take place "by text" as told: in 1963 the official photos of Valentina Tereskhova's return to Earth were taken a few days after the real landing because the first woman in space had injured her face and was immediately taken to hospital, Gagarin's return in 1961 was problematic because the service module seemed not to release as expected and the capsule had started spinning out of control, throwing the man into a panic.

The theory of the lost cosmonauts

According to the related conspiracy theory, whose diffusion has been favored by the secrecy that has always enveloped the Soviet side of the space race and by the climate of the Cold War, some of them would be dispersed in the depths of space, others died after a long agony in orbit or burned in the phase of re-entry to Earth: all protagonists of a terrible secret, kept hidden for decades by the Soviet Union in order not to compromise the prestige of its space program.

The key thesis of this theory would be the following: Yuri Gagarin was not the first man to go into space but only the first to come back alive. Before him, at least two cosmonauts would have died in the course of failed space flights and even later there would have been other victims, including a woman.
There are records of radio amateurs claiming to have captured dramatic communications between the Soviet control centers on the ground, the mysterious cosmonauts in distress.

The Lost Cosmonauts-Yuri Gagarin


Although detractors argue that they are mostly due to errors of interpretation, the theory of the lost cosmonauts was undoubtedly fueled by some alleged radio interceptions picked up over the skies of Turin by two Italian radio amateurs, Achille and Giovanni Battista Judica Cordiglia. The Judica Cordiglia brothers, who collaborated with Swiss radio, became famous by capturing communications from Soviet cosmonauts from Torre Bert, their operations center, on different dates:

  • November 28, 1960
    The Judica Cordiglia brothers claimed to have picked up an "SOS to the whole world" in Morse signals, coming from a fixed point in the sky and which became increasingly weaker as if it were moving away from the point of reception; they concluded that it must be a spaceship with a cosmonaut on board. Critics argue that the origin of the signal from a fixed point in the sky was not compatible with the travel of an orbit and therefore should be explained by a distance of the spacecraft from Earth, but this is not possible, because the Soviets at the time did not they had the ability to launch a manned spacecraft out of Earth's orbit, as the Proton rocket was only tested in 1965.

  • February 2, 1961
    The Judica Cordiglia brothers also claimed to have picked up a heartbeat and labored breathing from space, which they interpreted to be the rattle of a dying cosmonaut. Two days later the signal was picked up independently by another Italian radio amateur, Mario Del Rosario. Some critics, including Swedish engineer and radio communications expert Sven Grahn, argued that the physiological data of Soviet cosmonauts, including heartbeat, were actually transformed into square-wave electrical signals, sent to earth via telemetry. and subsequently decoded therefore could not be heard directly, but the sound had to be similar to the rustle of a fax or a modem, with interruptions at regular intervals. Sven speculated that in some cases it could have been ground-to-ground transmissions or transmissions from airplanes in flight.

  • May 23, 1961
    The Judica Cordiglia brothers claimed to have picked up the voice of some cosmonauts from space, including a woman, who is given the name of Ludmilla; she the latter she claimed to feel a growing heat and to see a flame. They believed the spacecraft burned out during the re-entry phase.
    The presence of several voices would suggest a multiple flight, but the Soviet Vostok capsules available at the time could not accommodate more than one cosmonaut; moreover, it is not possible that the woman's voice refers to the phase of re-entry into the atmosphere, because the ionization of the air particles diffused around the capsule would have interrupted the radio contact for a few minutes. Radio signals on the same frequency were also picked up at the same time by the Bochum Observatory in Germany, but the director stated that in his opinion they came from terrestrial transmissions.

  • May 15, 1962
    On this date, the voices of two men and a woman engaged in a desperate conversation are intercepted. Also this case would presuppose a mission with several cosmonauts aboard a capsule, but as mentioned above, the Voschod multi-place capsules were not yet available at the time.

The Lost Cosmonauts_Judica-Cordiglia-brothers

Elements supporting the theory

  • information received from Westerners who came into contact with people from the Soviet bloc;
  • interpretations of news appearing in Soviet newspapers;
  • interpretations of radio interceptions;
  • space missions declared unmanned and deemed to be manned instead.

Elements against the theory

In 1986, the Soviets themselves revealed some news that shed new light on their space program and on the question of the fatasma cosmonauts:

  • Pëtr Dolgov, counted among the lost cosmonauts, did not die in space but in a high-altitude jump with a parachute, carried out in 1962 as he was part of a group of military pilots who carried out tests for the space program.
  • Same fate befell Nikolai Nikitin, presumed dead cosmonaut in training, who died in 1963
  • Ledovsky, Šiborin and Mitkov, believed to be cosmonauts who died in suborbital flights, were part of this group of test pilots, but they were not cosmonauts
  • the photos of people in spacesuits that appeared in Soviet newspapers and attributed to lost cosmonauts instead referred to technicians in charge of trying on the suits.
  • as regards the radio interceptions of the Judica Cordiglia brothers, some experts in the dynamics of orbital flight have pointed out that, in some cases, the interception times do not correspond to the transit times on the listening station according to the calculations made based on the dynamics orbital


After the fall of the USSR in 1991, the archives of the space program were opened to the public and astronautics historians learned of many backstories and failures previously kept hidden.
Stories of the Nedelin catastrophe and the explosions that occurred during the experimentation of the N1 rocket, designed to bring two cosmonauts to the moon, emerged. We learned of aborted space missions in the launch phase, such as the Soyuz 18-1, during which the cosmonauts fortunately survived.
Among all the mass of documents and information drawn from the Soviet archives no evidence emerged that confirms the existence of secret space flights during which cosmonauts lost the lives.

Whether the question of the lost Cosmonauts is real or not, the history of the Russian conquest of space is littered with omissions, half-truths and hidden incidents for so long that they inevitably contribute to the spread of conspiracies and plots.

“Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!”

― Yuri Gagarin

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