Soviet Space Propaganda- Doctored Cosmonaut Photos.

Lies and half-truths have a way of catching up to you, largely because nobody has a good enough memory to be a successful liar for long.

The Soviet side of the 1960s space race is a particularly graphic example of this Author James Oberg, a former scientist at NASA Mission Control in Houston, has been a space nut since before Sputnik and Vostok.


Almost all of the Russian space program was clouded in secrecy.

Oberg, a former scientist at NASA Mission Control in Houston, has been a space nut since before Sputnik and Vostok. As a private sleuth of Soviet-era space secrets, he has written many books and magazine articles on various space mysteries and true histories, including the erased cosmonauts in this gallery, which he discovered in the early 1970s and first publicized.

The Soviet Union’s string of space triumphs over the United States was tarnished by a series of falsifications that surfaced and cast doubt on all their accomplishments, even the genuine ones. Today on the 50th anniversary of the Yuri Gagarin‘s first spaceflight, the greatest of the Soviet space triumphs, there are still plenty of unresolved doubts and suspicions.

Those doubts are encouraged by a series of photographs of the cosmonaut team, released in the 1970s, in which some individuals have been airbrushed out of scenes. The photo-doctoring was discovered because Soviet news managers lost track of which versions of photos had already been published, and re-released them after alteration.

These group shots of cosmonauts at work and on vacation included some as-yet unflown men. Apparently the subsequent bad behavior — or possibly victimization — of some of them rendered them unfit role models for Soviet youth, and they were erased (as shown above). These men would have been total strangers to the public, the fact that they never later appeared on space missions would seem to suggest that something bad had happened, something that had to be kept secret.

Western space enthusiasts, including me, eventually found both versions of some of these photographs, and in some cases, three or four different versions. Side-by-side publication of the forgeries sparked widespread mockery of the clumsiness of the Soviet lies. This led to a series of awkward attempts to explain the photos, that let slip even more information.

Finally, under Gorbachev’s glasnost in the final years of the Soviet regime, the USSR’s own devoted space journalists and historians were able to track down and share the names and fates of the men who had been deleted by clumsy censors.

The lies illustrated by these images fueled Western suspicions that a number of cosmonauts had died in secret space disasters, but it turns out this wasn’t true. The erased men had either misbehaved and been expelled, or even more innocently, had simply developed disqualifying medical conditions.

In the post-Soviet era I actually had the enormous pleasure of shaking hands with one of those erased men, who had been amused by my publication of before-and-after views of his own disappearance after he was dropped from spaceflight status.

 The Sochi Six

 After Gagarin’s historic space flight on April 12, 1961, the cosmonaut team took a well-earned vacation at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Official photographers were invited to photograph the men, even though “secret people” were there so the photos couldn’t be published for many years.

In the photo above, the top-secret head of the Soviet space program, Sergey Korolyov, sits front and center with two training officials to his left and his top six cosmonauts (the Sochi Six) around him. Gagarin wears the only tie.

In another version of the same photograph (above) a man directly behind Gagarin and Korolyov has been removed. Only a shadow remains.

In the version of the same photo above, the same man is missing, but has been replaced by a bush.

In this version (above), the missing cosmonaut is replaced by a reconstruction of the stairs to the porch.

In this version, the man is still in the photo, but a different man, known to be the chief parachute instructor, Nikolay Nikitin, has been erased (at lower right). Nikitkin subsequently died in a parachute accident.

The unknown missing man from the photo (left) was later identified by a Soviet journalist as Grigoriy Nelyubov, one of the top cosmonauts. He had been expelled from the program for misbehavior and later killed himself.

 Gagarin in Spacesuit

 The famous scene above of a spacesuited Gagarin on the way to his first launch (in the spacesuit behind him is Gherman Titov, who became the second man in space few months later) also contains the faces of two escort cosmonauts: the doomed Nelyubov (who had been removed from the Sochi photos on the previous slide) right behind Gagarin, and the man who would become Russia’s third cosmonaut the following year, Andriyan Nikolayev.

This version (above) of the photo of Gagarin in his spacesuit has become the iconic image of the man on his way to fame, and has been published on hundreds of book covers, in art exhibits and with news stories. Almost all of the images, for many years, had Nelyubov and Nikolayev cropped out.

The version above shows an entirely headless Nelyubov, with Nikolayev visible at the right margin.

Yet another version (above) eliminates the messiness of multiple airbrushing by just filling in the entire background with black.

 Sochi in Color

 The original Sochi image showed just the top six cosmonauts on the May 1961 post-flight vacation. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, this color version surfaced showing the entire 16-man cosmonaut team. (Of 20 picked a year earlier, one was already dead in training, and three others were on medical leave.)

In the closeup above, we see Gagarin, 10 other men who would later make spaceflights (an 11th, Vladimir Komarov, is not shown, but he soon reported back after further medical tests) and five other cosmonauts, including Nelyubov.

This newspaper image (above) was taken during the same photo shoot, after Gagarin had switched seats to make room for Korolyov’s wife and a cosmonaut’s young daughter. All of these men who would later make space flights remain, but the failed candidates are removed, along with the doomed parachute instructor Nikolay Nikitin.

This overhead schematic indicates the men’s positions, with those removed indicated. It represents the greatest space purge — and coverup — in Soviet cosmonaut history.

The entire group is seen in this photo (above). By the time images like this were being published in the 1990s, the USSR itself was history, and space history was much safer from retouching. But originals of already-published forgeries kept dribbling out over the years.

 Gagarin Before Launch

Gagarin’s first space launch on April 12, 1961, began with another famous forgery. In this original image (above), he is shaking hands with Korolyov, the secret leader of the Soviet space program. The field marshal in charge of the rocket base looks on, while launch pad workers scurry in the upper left background. Presumably for cosmetic reasons, the scurrying workers were too distracting, and became the first to go.

Presumably for propaganda reasons –- concealing the level of military presence in the Gagarin mission -– the old officer was next one thrown under the space bus.

Parachute Photo

 This famous photograph taken in the fall of 1960 is the source of another top Gagarin portrait that is a cropped image of his face alone. The full image came out many years later.

But the full image first appeared in this form (above), with one of the men erased. Because his face wasn’t even recognizable, more than mere security issues must have motivated it. The image is also cropped on the right to leave out a man who is checking the parachute for the front row man, Nikolayev. Via: Wired.Com


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