The thing about the Iron Curtain is that we'll never fully know what crazy shit went on behind it during the Cold War. And that's too bad, because the little hints that leak out really make it look like these people just did not give a shit.
Take the Soviet space program. We know they were the first to get both a satellite and a human in orbit, which were both pretty admirable accomplishments. What they kept hidden from the world was that maintaining even minimal levels of safety was a completely foreign concept to them. And that the cosmonauts who flew their rickety ass spaceships must have had balls made of elephant tusks.
Here are five spectacularly audacious Soviet space programs that prove that in Soviet Russia, space goes into you.
Between 1951 and 1966, the USSR sent over twenty dogs into the cosmos, but to be fair, they weren't the only ones who tested the viability of human space travel by sending animals up first. What separated the Soviet space dogs from the American monkeys, however, was that Soviet programs didn't always have the animal's best interests at heart. And by that we mean they often had no intention of bringing the animal back alive.
We're guessing PETA never had a Soviet equivalent.
Take Laika, for example. In November 1957 the whole world watched in astonishment as the Soviets not only launched Sputnik 2, but revealed they had a stray mongrel in the satellite as well, making them the first to get a living organism in orbit. Everything about Laika's journey seemed to go swimmingly, until we realized the Soviets never had a safe return plan for their pooch, and they planned for her to die in space all along. Which sucks, of course, but at least she died peacefully when she ate her poisoned food dose a week into orbit, as the Soviets reported.
They honored her sacrifice with a stamp, that she might torment postal workers for generations to come.
Except, oh wait, that's not how Laika died at all. In 2002 it was revealed that Laika wasn't euthanized, but that she died in the most horrifying way possible within hours of the launch. Sputnik 2, it turned out, was something of a rush job. The whole thing had been planned and put together in four weeks, so no one should have been surprised when the thermal insulation system broke right away. Poor Laika, whose little doggy heart was already beating at four times its resting rate, found herself in a cabin that was 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Her body shut down from stress and heat within five to seven hours of her launch.
Even when the Soviet space dogs punched space in the face and landed safely, they still had to contend with a Russian winter, because the Soviets weren't exactly, how do you say, capable of landing them at the right place. Which was why dogonaut capsules came equipped with a 60 hour self-destruct timer on board, just in case. That self destruct function was almost used in December, 1960, when Damka and Krasavka's capsule landed off course in the middle of a NEGATIVE 45 DEGREE Russian winter. Rescuers barely got to the dogs before they became pupcicles.
Via Wikipedia Commons
All horror aside, that little space suit might be the most adorable thing we've ever seen.
Eventually, more and more of the dogs started coming back safe and sound, so the Soviets thought space was finally safe for humans.
(Spoiler: it wasn't.)
All that dog torture paid off when the Soviets safely launched and returned human cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961. But there are more than a few people who contend that Yuri the Fury wasn't actually the first man in space, he was just the first one to survive to tell the tale. And that, theoretically, there are some cosmonauts still out there hurtling across the universe.
We're guessing none of them had Yuri's winning smile or soulful eyes.
While the Soviets hit the ground running in the space race, we later found out that their actual space program was a bit of a shit show. However, they did have one advantage on their side; their ability to cover up every single failure and destroy all evidence of incompetence, which is why no one can actually prove what we're about to tell you.
In 1959 a German scientist claimed at least four Soviet cosmonauts had already died between the years 1957 and 1959. According to Hermann Oberth, the Soviets were converting rockets to manned spaceships, and he would know, because he was working with NASA and had seen the intelligence to prove it. Plus, a high ranking Czech official further corroborated the story when he also leaked information that unofficial launches killed a few cosmonauts.
"Maybe we should send some oxygen up with the next batch of pilots?"
But it wasn't until two Italian brothers with a knack for radio got in the act that the story really gained some ground. After cobbling together an improvised listening system comprised of scavenged equipment and sheer audacity, Achilles and Giovanni Battista Judica-Cordiglia started picking up some creepy shit. Specifically, an SOS signal in Morse Code. And the dying gasps and fading heartbeat of a cosmonaut whose signal was getting farther and farther away from Earth. And a Russian woman who said:
Transmission begins now. Forty-one. Yes, I feel hot. I feel hot, it's all... it's all hot. I can see a flame! I can see a flame! I can see a flame! Thirty-two... thirty-two. Am I going to crash? Yes, yes I feel hot... I am listening, I feel hot, I will re-enter. I'm hot!
Via the Judicia-Cordiglia brothers.
Above: The most depressing hobby since stamp-collecting.
Just as signs of screaming began, the transmission was cut off. And then there was the couple who desperately pleaded for help:
Conditions growing worse. Why don't you answer? . . . we are going slower . . . the world will never know about us...
None of the transmissions were acknowledged by the Soviets, but the KGB began taking a hearty interest in the brothers, nevertheless. And then, as if it wasn't creepy enough that two Italian guys were recording the tortured last cries of phantom space travelers, there was the whole matter of the cosmonauts who mysteriously disappeared from official pictures.
Later we learned that one of the airbrushed cosmonauts was cut from official pictures and all records after suffering a horrific death by fire on the launchpad. Another was expunged because he was a drunk brawler who eventually committed suicide. As for the rest, we'll never know.