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I read this Russian article today that claims that Yuri Gagarin (the first person to journey into outer space) was, in fact, the thirteenth attempt that was finally successful.

Is that correct?

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    Most of us are not going to be able to read the Russian article you link. However, it presumably refers to some variant of the Lost Cosmonaut theories, which are summarized here. I haven't heard claims that there are 13 lost cosmonauts, but there is some very inconclusive evidence that the Soviets lost some people. – KAI Oct 13 '16 at 19:58
  • @KAI, for clarity, the Russian-language article refers this claim (also exists in the linked Wikipedia article): “In December 1959, the Italian news agency Continentale repeated the claims that a series of cosmonaut deaths on suborbital flights had been revealed by a high-ranking Czech communist. Continentale identified the cosmonauts as Alexei Ledowsky, <s>Serenty</s> Sergey Schriborin, Andreij Mitkow, and <s>Mirija Gromov</s> Maria Gromova.” – bytebuster Oct 13 '16 at 21:03
  • The site claims to be an "international internet magazine", for what it's worth. I didn't dig deep enough into their popularity (Alexa maybe?) to see how notable this would be. – user5341 Oct 13 '16 at 23:36
  • The article gives a complete list of 12 supposed people who tried the flight before Gagarin and the supposed reasons for failure. It has fairly specific details, including some meaningful individuals (Владимир Ильюшин, son of the famous airplane designer Ilyushin, who lent his name to soviet "Il-" planes designed at his bureau), as well as actual sources, including Spiegel, Reuters, AP, Continental (Italy), Corriere della Sera (Italy) and Daily Worker (UK). – user5341 Oct 13 '16 at 23:40
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I haven't gone through the full list of 12 people yet, but at least one name, which is a meaningful famous person, is clearly very suspicious.

  • #12 on the list is Vladimir Ilyushin, the son of famous airplane designer Sergey Ilyushin (of the "Il-" soviet plane fame).

    11 апреля 1961 года американская Daily Worker опубликовала заметку московского корреспондента Дэнниса Огдена о том, что 7 апреля на космическом корабле совершил успешный орбитальный полет сын известного авиаконструктора, летчик-испытатель Владимир Ильюшин. Однако при посадке отказало оборудование, и первый космонавт сел в Китае, о дальнейшей судьбе космонавта неизвестно.

    On April 11, 1961, American "Daily Worker" published an article by Moscow correspondent Dennis Ogden that on April 7 a successful orbital flight of a spacecraft was made by the son of the famous aircraft designer, test pilot Vladimir Ilyushin. However, the equipment failed on landing and the first astronaut landed in in China, the future fate of the astronaut is unknown.

    There are three clear inconsistencies in this account:

    1. Firstly, there are credible sources contradicting the narrative. Namely, Sergey Khruschyov (Nikita Khruschyov's son), whose name was used unscrupulously by distributors of DVD about these supposed secret failures, has given an interview to Space Review's James Oberg, stating that the DVD people lied and reversed what he told them, and that the story is bunk:

      He {Sergey Khruschyov} told them the theory was bunk, so they decided not to use those comments. In an email of August 11, 2009, he gave me the following statement:

      “Gagarin was the first cosmonaut and Vladimir Illushin never was in the cosmonaut group. He was test pilot and had car accident. I told this on camera, Mr. Haimoff argued that he has evidence, I answered that I KNOW and advised him to ask Illushin. He answered that he asked, Illushin denied, ‘because his was instructed to do so’. This is the story, the rest is manipulation with the tape, you know that it is possible to do everything that you want. I do not know any Russian historian who believe in this absurd version.”

    2. His fate is not "unknown". His further biography is listed even in his Wikipedia article, including his 2010 death.

    3. Les importantly, "Daily Worker" wasn't a thing in 1961. According to the Wikipedia page, the paper stopped daily publishing in 1958 and by 1961, change its name and only published weekly.

      ... Owing to greatly reduced operating income associated with a reduced membership, the CPUSA was forced to cease publication of a daily paper, with the final issue of the Daily Worker appearing on January 13, 1958 ... After a short hiatus, the party published a weekend paper called The Worker from 1958 until 1968. A Tuesday edition called The Midweek Worker was added in 1961 and also continued until 1968, when production was accelerated.


Please note that this same author put a lot of effort into debunking many claims of this nature. The same article linked above also contains mentions of specific evidence (1967 photo of Gagarin with Zavadovskiy and Belokonov, both of whom are on the list of 12 in the claim), that contradicts the claims, for example. He also presents credible theory of where and why the claims originated (there was a group of trainees who hoped to be come cosmonauts).

  • Additionally, Ilyushin was a well respected figure and died in 2010. If he was indeed the first to orbit, I find it incredibly unlikely that he never spoke out about it, even decades after, when KGB and KPSS were both out of the picture. It's an argument from incredulity, so not worth including in the answer, but still a piece of evidence. – user5341 Oct 14 '16 at 0:15
  • The only evidence for these claims is the previous vostok launches were transmitting as though they had a crew, including the one that's still stuck up there. Maybe they were just tape recordings on the test capsules though. – Joshua Nov 15 '16 at 3:42

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