There has been a lot of speculation about whether the USSR attempted to send a cosmonaut into space before Yuri Gagarin. Most of the discussion has been within the realm of the conspiracy theorist and quite honestly, the supporting evidence is pretty thin… until now that is.
model of a Vostok era cosmonaut
A new book published today reveals that there was in fact one partly successful space flight prior to Gagarin but the cosmonaut was so badly injured that Nikita Kruschev himself ordered the suppression of all records pertaining to the flight.
Ivan Ivanovich Maketov was born in Begemodsk, near Moscow, in 1923. Commissioned into the Red Air Force in 1941 he served with distinction and it was his exemplary war record that landed him a position as a test pilot for the Mikoyan Gurevitch design bureau.
In 1958 Maketov was one of six Air Force officers selected for cosmonaut training. Maketov was considered the most able candidate, better even than Gagarin and so it was no surprise whent he was selected for the first Vostok flight in March 1961.
Vostok 1 was launched on 9 March. Maketov made three successful orbits of the earth before returning to earth. During re entry, an electrc malfunction caused a fire in the capsule burning Maketov severely. Despite this he was able to bail out of the capsule but landed badly breaking his back, hip and legs.
An injured Matekov after bailing out of Vostok 1
Because of his injuries it was decided that a severely injured cosmonaut would not present the Soviet Union’ in the best light. All information about Maketov’s was suppressed. On 12 April Gagarin made his historic flight. His vessel was originally designated Vostok 2 but was renamed Vostok 1 as part of the cover up.
Maketov after reconstructive surgery
Maketov, spent two years undergoing rehabilitation after the incident but was unable to make a full recovery. Despite numerous reconstructive operations his face remained severely disigured. In 1963 he was granted a pension and flat in Sochi where he lived until his death in 1988.
The First Cosmonaut was written by scientist and aviation historian Matyob Govnovsky.. He had been was granted unprecedented access to the Soviet spacet archives. Even so he was shocked to discover several files on Maketov.
“There has been a lot of speculation about failed missions before Gagarin”, he said “It was a genuine shock to discover that the speculations were actually based in fact”.
Govnovsky has already petitioned the Russian government to erect a memorial to Maketov. “Gagarin was a true hero but so was Maketov. It would take nothing away from Gagarin’s achievement to erect a memorial to another true hero of space,” he said.