Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Today in space history.

Today is the birthday of Valentin Ignatyevich Filatyev, one of the first pilots to be chosen for cosmonaut training.

Filatyev was by all accounts a good and decent and talented and well-liked cosmonaut; naturally, his story is a tragic one.

On March 27, 1963, Filatyev and two fellow cosmonauts (Nelyubov and Anikiyev) were detained by the MPs at Chkalovskiy. Apparently, all three men were drunk and disorderly. The MPs, perhaps being a bit star-struck by the cosmonauts, were quite willing to forget the entire incident. All they asked was that the men apologize. Filatyev and Anikiyev readily agreed. Nelyubov, however, refused.

Yuri Gagarin and the other members of the Sochi Six (Russia's equivalent of the Mercury Seven) pleaded on behalf of Filatyev and Anikiyev, but to no avail. On April 16, 1963, all three men were dismissed from the cosmonaut corps.

The subsequent discovery of an airbrush removal of Nelyubov from the "Sochi Six" photograph fueled Cold War speculation that there was a massive coverup in the Soviet space program and that cosmonauts who were anything less than perfect soon disappeared.

Nelyubov committed suicide by stepping in front of a train in 1966, Anikiyev died of natural causes at age 59, and Filatyev died of lung cancer in 1990.

Below: The original "Sochi Six" photograph, discovered by author James Oberg while he was searching for information on the "lost cosmonauts."
  • Front row: A.G. Nikolayev; Y.A. Gagarin; S.P. Korolioff; Karpov; N.K. Nikitin.
  • Back row: P.R. Popovich; G.G. Nelyubov; G.S. Titov; V.F. Bykovsky.

And here is the photo after it was doctored:

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