Saturday, January 26, 2008

Where never lark or eagle flew

Now it can be told -- by Pravda. Yuri Gagarin was the first man to survive Russia's attempts to send a man into space.

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.



Ledovskikh, Shaborin and Mitkov were brave men. And it is fitting that the curtain, imposed by bureaucrats whose greatest risk was to admit failure, and which shrouded their attempts should be lifted. Being an astronaut in the early days was literally equivalent to riding a million part contraption, all supplied by the lowest bidder. In the case of the three Russians, the parts were supplied by the Russian lowest bidders. Bravery has no greater peak to climb.

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Yes and that, too.

The Soviets had a different engineering philosophy from the West. A friend of mine once described the Russian genius as the ability to make junk work. That didn't mean it wasn't junk; but that didn't mean it didn't work either. There's an interesting book called Commanding the Red Army's Sherman Tanks, by Dmitry Loza, available from Amazon which illustrates the point. It describes the experiences of a Red Army tanker who used US Shermans against Panthers and Tigers on the Eastern Front. I've read quotes taken from the book here and there, but one of the reviewers at the Amazon site highlights the most amazing thing about it. The Soviets thought the world of the Sherman, and thought it could take on the Tiger with proper tactics.

Strangely, Loza has more good things to say about the Sherman tank than Belton Cooper, who wrote Death Traps (which I just read). Cooper thinks the tanks were no match for their German counterparts, Loza argues that used properly, emphasizing speed and maneuverability, they could and did stand up to the Panthers and even Tigers tolerably well.

Another reviewer on the Amazon site writes, "It seems that the author had a high regard for the M-4 Sherman Tank, and this was from a national whose nation's specialty was the design and production of great tanks." The quotes from the book I've read over the Web are probably more revealing about the Russian character than the Sherman tank. Loza recounts, for example, how pairs of Soviet Shermans would take on a Tiger. One Sherman would pot at the Tiger's track. If hit, the Tiger would slew around as one side shed its track, leaving the other Soviet Sherman with a flank shot against the thin side armor. Another ploy the Soviets used was to surprise the Tigers or Panthers at point blank and melee around them. The Sherman's turret power traverse was so much faster than the hand-cranked German turrets. They'd get inside the gun lag and shoot the German armor full of holes. Not unsurprisingly, the Russians appreciated the comfort of the Sherman and what they regarded as its plush interior. I suppose that compared to misery of a T-34, it was the lap of luxury. But Loza's book goes to show how a poor country saw things differently from a country like the USA.

Maybe the Russians didn't think losing three cosmonauts in a row to learn what didn't work was a bad deal, though I'm sure the cosmonauts had a different view. The Sovs valued things differently. That's not to say they were right, but they sure were different.

39 Comments:

Blogger Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey said...

This claim surfaced in 2001. Don't you think it would have caused a stir among serious historians between then and now, especially if it were true?

1/26/2008 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

'Pravda' means truth!

1/26/2008 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Which part strikes you as not being true?

That the Russians had a calamitous history of explosions before they finally succeeded? That we knew about and had been tracking?

That the Russians did not have a training program for their people equal to what Americans were doing?

That the Russians are not known world-wide for shoddy craftsmanship?

That the Russians are still the only country in the world to have managed to produce a nuclear melt-down through stupidity, incompetence and bravery? And then tried to keep it secret except that the globe's wind patterns insisted on spreading radioactive proof of their big boo-boo all around the world.

That the Russians lost one of their big major nuclear submarines -- including all the men on board it -- through a combination of incompetence, stupidity, and really bad engineering? And then tried to keep *that* secret, too, up to and including refusing help from outsiders who likely would have been able to save some of the doomed crew.

Or you think, Mr. Bill Higgins, that the Russians got it just exactly right the very first time because putting a man in space is so easy, and Yuri had absolutely nothing to worry about, because if you can claim that, then it denegrates America's achievement(s) in comparison?

1/26/2008 10:40:00 PM  
Blogger Beverly said...

There's a reason why rocket scientists call rockets "man-rated ammunition."

I interviewed Alexei Leonov once, a few years ago. First man to walk in space, if you recall. He said, rather tartly, that the reason he wasn't the first cosmonaut in space was that he got to Baikonur 30 minutes after Gagarin. If he'd been there before lunch, he declared, it would have been he.

He also related that the engineers forgot something when they designed his spacesuit: how it would behave in zero-G. He got out of the airlock, and his limbs popped out straight as his suit expanded like the Michelin man! He floated around on the end of his tether for about 20 minutes, then had to fold his arms and legs to get back in--but he couldn't bend them far enough.

"What did you do???"

He grinned. "I just bled a little air out of the suit, that's all."

They're all crazy, these fighter jocks.

1/26/2008 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Beverly said...

"[Alexei Leonov] grinned. "I just bled a little air out of the suit, that's all."
They're all crazy, these fighter jocks."

Leonov was lucky that he didn't get the bends doing that stunt.

Test pilots of the 1950s were beyond brave. Read the "Right Stuff" to learn about the hair raising adventures of American test pilots (many of them died very suddenly as they "augered in").

John Glenn went into orbit AFTER Alan Sheppard's sub-orbital test flight. It always struck me as a bit odd that Yuri Gagarin went into orbit without a prior sub-orbital test flight. This story of multiple cosmonaut deaths prior to Yuri Gagarin's successful flight has a "ring of truth" about it.

Getting into orbit is intrinsically dangerous. The cosmonaut/astronaut is obligated to sit on tons of rocket fuel powered by hardware with huge energy gradiants separated by only thin walls of metal. The greatest scandal of the American Space Program was designing the Space Shuttle without a crew escape system. We held our astronaut's lives in even greater contempt than the Soviet leaders held the lives of their cosmonauts.

Both cosmonauts and astronauts should be honored by all of humanity as truly courageous men and women serving a noble cause.

1/26/2008 11:09:00 PM  
Blogger Nichevo said...

Hmmm...do you think we knew about this? USG, not the NYT, of course...though who would have held the secret tighter of the two?

1/27/2008 12:07:00 AM  
Blogger Spatchcock said...

How many will die on the way to Mars before the West decides that it just ain't worth the price?

1/27/2008 12:59:00 AM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

How many will die on the way to Mars before the West decides that it just ain't worth the price?

If a private company undertook the trip to Mars the price of discovery would be how much people were willing to pay for it; how much risk the astronauts were willing to accept.

I recall a comment on an earlier thread which said that the real risks of the Apollo program were locked away because had they become known the Saturn would never have been allowed to fly. How much risk a public is willing to run to win a war, fly to Mars, etc is decided on political grounds. Not a bad thing for society as a whole, but unlikely to satisfy that part of society which has a higher risk-return profile.

1/27/2008 01:29:00 AM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

Spatchcock:

Your question presumes that you know that Mars is not worth the price.

For all the complaints, frequently by people with a cuckoo libertarian orientation, the exploration of space has been considerably less lethal than humanity's early efforts to master aviation. Or even the deaths involved in testing new aircraft designs in recent years.

1/27/2008 02:20:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

"The greatest scandal of the American Space Program was designing the Space Shuttle without a crew escape system. We held our astronaut's lives in even greater contempt than the Soviet leaders held the lives of their cosmonauts. "
---
The entire concept and bogus sales pitch was wrong by design.
The simple feature of having the crew section atop the rocket made a simple, (old corporal rockets strapped together) effective escape possible, AND did not subject the fragile craft from falling debris, as does the shuttle.

NASA is forced by tragic reality to admit it's unforced error in the design of the next gen launch vehicle.
Wish they would appoint RWE as the new Wehrner Von Braun, and we could save a bundle!

In Apollo days, Man-Rated excluded solid rocket boosters, but the shuttle was sold with blue sky "calculations" about how economical the reusable Shuttle will be.
RWE could probably fill a book with all the ways that load of hooey was flat wrong.

Don't hear much about the chlorofluorocarbon-free inferior foam, perhaps RWE can fill us in on the truth of that matter.

1/27/2008 02:26:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Beverly,
I think you meant to say zero atmosphere rather than zero G, right?

1/27/2008 02:27:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

There have been rumors for 40 plus years that the USSR lost men before their first successful orbital flight. Recently they have all been discounted. But those were all about people supposedly dying on orbit. It is fairly obvious that the Soviets must have launched men on ballistic trajectories before trying an orbital mission, but we have heard nothing about that before now.

In 1971 the Soviets lost 3 men returning from a space station mission. The reason was that they crammed 3 men into a spacecraft designed for 2 – which was essential in order to be able they say they could match Apollo. But putting 3 men in meant there was no room for them to wear spacesuits, and they died when a leak let all their air out.

In 1975 a Soviet manned launch lifted off and the upper stage broke partially loose from the core vehicle. The 2 man crew was bouncing around as the spacecraft waved around atop the booster and called for an abort, probably saying the Russian equivalent of “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!” The ground crew thought everything looked Okay and let it go. When the vehicle tried to stage it could not; the core vehicle stayed attached and then no one could deny there was a problem. The ground crew pushed the abort button and the spacecraft went through a high-G descent, rolling down the side of a mountain and nearly dropping off a precipice – the crew thus winning the Wile E. Coyote award for manned spaceflight achievement. They scrambled out of the capsule into a blizzard and were nearly eaten by wolves before being rescued by a Russian woodcutter and his daughter.

The funny thing about U.S. manned spaceflight is that when we try the hard, challenging and supposedly dangerous things we succeed and no one gets killed. When we try a bureaucratic, keep-everyone-employed approach – like the Russians do so well - the results are costly, useless, and deadly.

1/27/2008 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey said...

Nahncee writes:

Which part strikes you as not being true?

The part that this particular news story is seven years old, and I cannot find confirmation of this claim from other sources anywhere on the Web. The part that James Oberg, a diligent American researcher, examined the story in 1973 and found it wanting; no new evidence has changed his mind. (See a chapter from his 1988 book Uncovering Soviet Disasters.

Cosmonauts certainly died on Earth during the course of the early Soviet space program. There is no credible evidence that any died aboard rockets, before the Soyuz 1 failure in 1967.

Or you think, Mr. Bill Higgins, that the Russians got it just exactly right the very first time because putting a man in space is so easy, and Yuri had absolutely nothing to worry about, because if you can claim that, then it denegrates America's achievement(s) in comparison?

No, those are not my reasons. What did I write that led you to conjecture that those are my reasons?

1/27/2008 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger InternetFred said...

Did any of the three who died make it into outer space before they died? If not, then Gagarin is still the first man in space.

1/27/2008 08:07:00 AM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

Just because something is plausible does not mean it's true.

In other words, 'Pravda!'

1/27/2008 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

No, those are not my reasons. What did I write that led you to conjecture that those are my reasons?

Because your comment is so illogical and stupid, and since I'm used to Moonbats routinely denying reality, I was guessing you are a "progressive" in denial (again), which must also mean you're anti-American.

You obviously are either too young to have been around during the time being discussed, or you haven't read or studied history to claim that this story must, ipso facto, be false because YOU can't find confirmation on the internet. Have you even read "The Right Stuff"? There's a Cliff's Notes version in the movie if you don't have the attention span -- I recommend it.

* * *

As for this comment -- "How many will die on the way to Mars before the West decides that it just ain't worth the price?" -- I think it's worth the price of getting to Mars just to get away from the naysayers and do-nothings like this commenter.

The population all over the globe is split 50/50 between "liberals" and "conservatives, we're making each other crazy, so the logical conclusion is that we need to split off and let the lazy timid moonbats keep their eco-friendly, non-globally warmed planet, and the rest of us will take our football and go someplace else where we can play and sing and dance without having to worry about hurting some little person of color, feminist or Muslim's feelings.

Mars would be a good first step, and I'd volunteer to be a guinea pig in getting there but I'm certain there are tons of smart young men and women already in line, equally eager to see what's over the next ridge.

1/27/2008 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

nahncee:

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth!

'Cause all us fire breathing tigers will have gone somewhere else...

1/27/2008 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

I don't understand why questioning the authority of Pravda makes one left-wing.

For decades, Pravda was the propaganda organ of the Communist Party.

Perhaps some people aren't old enough to remember that.

After 1991, it became a sensationalist tabloid. Neither piece of its history adds to its credibility.

One doesn't have to love the old Soviet Union, or want to defend it, or deny reality, to question such a source.

1/27/2008 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

John Lynch - it's not a matter of questioning Pravda. It's a matter of automatically denying anything and everything unless you, personally, can confirm it with your own beady little eyes. And even then, you'd probably claim it's photoshopped.

To me, it makes sense because I'm remembering lots and lots and lots of film clips over the years of Russian rockets exploding, going up and crashing right back down, and just tipping over. And I had always assumed that there would be at lease one human being at the tippy top of those explosions.

I'm also remembering an interview at the time of Chernobyl with a Russian physician who was commenting on treating radiation. She said they knew exactly what to do with the victims of Chernobyl because they had so much experience from the Russian rocket program, which she further mentioned was highly classified so she shouldn't talk about it.

You're basing your rejection on one story by Pravda. I'm basing my acceptance of the story on history and experience. Run along now and do some reading before you embarrass yourself further.

1/27/2008 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I've just been a lurker here for quite some time but I really had to say something. Nahncee, you are such an incredible bore. Your only value to this esteemed forum is your ability to construct insults. And even those are tired, dull, and not particularly funny.

You seem completely unable to even remotely fathom what John and Bill have been saying. No surprise as you seem equally unable to fathom that your snarkiness has no place in this esteemed and serious forum.

And so, you run your mouth off not knowing what you're talking about, not understanding the nature of the forum you are in, and clearly not being able to comprehend what people are clearly saying.

Please, run along before you embarrass yourself further.

1/27/2008 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger newscaper said...

I found this reference to a 2001 article in The Indepndent:
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20010414/ai_n14381612
**found the original link:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/europe/ussr-kept-secret-the-deaths-of-first-cosmonauts-681320.html

It all seems quite plausible, unlike the stories of three mummified cosmonauts trapped in orbit.

In the pre-recon satellite days, the Sovs could have easily launched suborbital flights entirely within their own territory, far from prying eyes -- and even if we'd managed to track anything, it inherently looked no different than just another missile test.

The one thing that rings oddly to me in the story is the suggestion that the failures led to a real "cosmonaut" program. Why? That would imply human error by the passenger (I won't say pilot) when it was almost certainly some sort of equipment failure.

[In the Apollo-Soyuz rendezvous of 1975, our guys did all of the in-close docking maneuvers as the Soyuz was just too primitive, it couldn't really be "flown" like a true vehicle.]

1/27/2008 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger newscaper said...

I will agree that today's Pravda makes today's National Enquirer look reputable by comparison.

I don;t know how Pravda is regarded by the man in the street in Russia, but the level of paranoid conspiracy mongering, jingoism and pseudoscience is kinda scary.

1/27/2008 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger newscaper said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/27/2008 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger newscaper said...

Sigh - trying again

link here

1/27/2008 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

NahnCee said:

"As for this comment -- "How many will die on the way to Mars before the West decides that it just ain't worth the price?" -- I think it's worth the price of getting to Mars just to get away from the naysayers and do-nothings like this commenter.... Mars would be a good first step, and I'd volunteer to be a guinea pig in getting there... "

NahnCee,

My esteem for you just went up several notches (it was pretty high before).

While you're standing in line for that Mars mission, take a look around and you'll probably find me standing in that same line.

1/27/2008 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Richard, you're a lurker and the first comment you choose to post is a personal attack with no factoids, analyses, or personal experience. Just bottom-of-the-barrel out and out name-calling.

I think not.

1/27/2008 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

RWE said...

"The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth! 'Cause all us fire breathing tigers will have gone somewhere else..."

Another version that I prefer:

"The Meek shall inherit the Earth because the rest of us have gone on to the stars"

1/27/2008 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Doug said:

"NASA is forced by tragic reality to admit it's unforced error in the design of the next gen launch vehicle."

The Space Shuttle design is seriously flawed. I could go through a long litany of what's wrong with the current Space Shuttle but won't.

However NASA was forced into this situation.

After 1968, funding for the Apollo Program was guillotined. By the early 1970s, NASA was on the ground dying with a stake in its heart. It was funding for the Space Shuttle that what kept NASA alive through the 1970s and early 1980s. The original designs for the Space Shuttle were competent. Unfortunately, NASA's managers got into this stupid game of "chicken" with the politicians and bean counters. NASA presented the politicians with its original design for the Space Shuttle. The bean counters responded that it was too expensive and to cut the development costs in half. There was a redesign and a new concept was presented. Again NASA was told to cut the development costs in half. Finally, NASA came up with the current bastardized version and it passed the Senate by a single vote.

NASA should have called the politician's bluff and said: "Do you want a Space Program or not?" Then see if the politicians would formally terminate the Space Program and fire all the engineers. However the people running NASA were not prepared to take that risk (perhaps wisely).

1/27/2008 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Assuming a way could be found to terraform Mars (essentially re-heating the core to provide a magnetic field, create volcanism, re-establish the atmosphere and warm the place up -- all horrendous technical challenges akin to putting a man on the moon without modern electronic computers and relying on slide rules, or making a nuclear bomb in 1945) what do you have?

Why land of course. A whole new rehabed planet just waiting for pioneers. And no natives to have to slaughter either. Why a nation like India or China could certainly export it's heavy population to such a place and find social peace. It's not like anything akin to that has ever happened before.

SOMEONE is eventually going to attempt it. The payoff is just too great.

1/27/2008 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Whiskey_199 said:

"Assuming a way could be found to terraform Mars..."

One does not need to terraform the entire planet. Only terraform the canyons, i.e. glaze over the top of canyons, pressurize underneath and then run heated water over the canyon floor as an artificial river via a recirculating aquaduct. The waste heat from a nuclear reactor could warm the water and usable energy from the reactor could manage canyon pressurization (there would be continual leakage of atmosphere from the habitat).

"Why a nation like India or China could certainly export it's heavy population to such a place and find social peace."

One does not colonize Mars by shipping millions of people there. Keep in mind that everyone now alive on Earth will be dead due to old age, etc. in 150 years. Birth control is the best solution for over-population. The opposite is true for populating a new world. Simply ship a genetically diverse population of between 500-1000 people to Mars. Then provide them with the technology to be fruitful and multiply. The population doubles every twenty years. It only takes a little over two centuries to have over a million people on Mars (do the math, it's amazing).

1/27/2008 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

Anyone interested in terraforming Mars should read Kim Stanley Robinson's, Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars trilogy. It is a very well-written account of what reshaping a planet might involve, right down to dealing with radical ecologists trying to prevent damage to the planet's original biosphere.

1/27/2008 05:56:00 PM  
Blogger pst314 said...

Nahncee, please dial down the rhetoric.

Bill Higgins asked a fair question and deserves a respectful response, not abuse. Pravda has a deservedly dicey reputation, publishing all sorts of weird stuff as if it were gospel truth.

Mr. Higgins is not ignorant on these matters, having avidly followed the space program all his life. I believe he has been a member of the National Space Society since it was founded, and he regularly gives talks on space science and the space program. He has met many people in the space community, both at NASA and in various private space ventures. As for "The Right Stuff", he has not only read it, he has discussed it in public talks. He cited James Oberg, the noted expert on the Soviet space program. Do you know who he is? You might want to read his books.

He has a degree in physics and works at a very well-known physics laboratory. He is respected by the engineers and scientists he works with, and by those he meets in the course of his activities advocating for the space program and educating the public on astronomical science. Guy Consolmagno, planetary astronomer and author of such books as Brother Astronomer, likes to joke "When I'm in Italy I live at the Vatican but when I'm in the USA I sleep on Bill's couch."

As for going to Mars, he has said repeatedly that he wants a ticket to space as soon as it becomes affordable.

So, how about you lay off the personal attacks and save your vitriol for people who actually deserve abuse?

1/27/2008 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

eggplant, "However NASA was forced into this situation."

Thank you, that's the way I remember it. I'm having a problem with NASA at the moment but only because of Dr. Hanson and his AGW cohorts.

1/27/2008 08:12:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

pst, impressive resume. I wonder even more, then, why Mr. Higgins seems to be so unaware and to be basing his response upon one article out of Pravda.

1/27/2008 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Oh for cryin' out loud.

Run along now and do some reading before you embarrass yourself further.

1/27/2008 10:47:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Mike H. said:

"I'm having a problem with NASA at the moment but only because of Dr. Hanson and his AGW cohorts."

Dr. Hanson does not speak for NASA. A few months ago, Mike Griffin (NASA's administrator) accidentially tipped his hand concerning global warming skepticism and then immediately backed down after realizing that he had kicked a hornet's nest. The subject of global warming is so politically correct that no one dares speak against it if they need to preserve political coin for other agendas.

1/27/2008 11:41:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

The First, and ONLY Commandment:
Thou shalt not Blaspheme the
Church of Global Climate Change.

1/28/2008 05:35:00 AM  
Blogger pst314 said...

"I wonder even more, then, why Mr. Higgins seems to be so unaware and to be basing his response upon one article out of Pravda."

Just who is basing his response on one article in Pravda? Please re-read what Bill Higgins wrote: "This claim surfaced in 2001" and "this particular news story is seven years old...James Oberg...examined the story in 1973 and found it wanting." You, on the other hand, have jumped on the Pravda story without any supporting sources, and are enthusiatically attacking those who question it.

Please, stop digging. And maybe an apology would be in order? The Belmont Club is an exceptionally intelligent blog, and I'd hate for a smart and knowledgable person like Bill Higgins, who has much to contribute, to decide to avoid it based on one nasty and juvenile exchange.

1/28/2008 05:53:00 AM  
Blogger Beverly said...

Hi, Doug,

I meant to say "vacuum," actually!

For those who are interested in how the Shuttle came to be, answer this question:

"Who is Klaus Heiss?"

1/28/2008 11:30:00 PM  

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