Thursday, April 14, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: L is for Lost Cosmonauts

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories L
The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: L is for Lost Cosmonauts

L was going to be for Lunar, but while I was researching this one came up and I just really could not say no.

The notion of lost cosmonauts has been around since the dawn of the manned space missions.  I recall people (ok, kids) talking about this in the 1980s when the distrust of the U.S.S.R. was at a high.

The idea is simple.  The Soviet Union sent men into space even before Yuri Gagarin's (the first man into Space) historic flight.  Cutting corners the Soviets sent men into space and presuablly could not get them back down.  Somewhere up there their life-less, well preserved bodies still float in orbit.

The first of these came up after 1959 when the US and the USSR were deep into the "Space Race."  Even such illuminaries as Robert A. Heinlein wrote about shenanigans with the Soviet space program in his article "Pravda means 'Truth'."  The is in fact so much about it that I am not entirely sure I can rule it out.  It's not inconceivable that the Soviets would lie about these sorts of things, and certainly not beyond the realm of belief that they would cut corners.  As the following meme demonstrates.

The Pen is Mightier than the ... Pencil
Cute. But no where near the truth.  Pencils are flammable. Pencils, modern ones anyway, are made of graphite. Which as you are writing turns to a fine dust, which while weightless can get into electrical circuits and cause damage.  None of these things you want in a small, oxygen rich, inclosed environment.   People buy into this meme because the accept a level of, well incompetence from the forme Soviet Union. 

Are there dead Cosmonauts still in orbit out there?  Who knows.  This is the first one I really can't outright dismiss.



The problem with dead Cosmonauts is not whether or not they are out there.  It's what happens when they come back to Earth.  I have lost track of how many "horror from space" movies I have seen. Lots. Too many really.  So here is situation.  A space craft in orbit from the 1960s has been spotted by some amateur astonomers (nod to me sitting out in the cold with my telescope trying to find Skylab) and it is slowly falling to Earth.  The Soviets want it to burn up in the atmosphere, but the Americans want to salvage it for it's secrets (let's say this is the 1980s).  Guess who has the right idea? Clue, it isn't Uncle Sam. 

The craft lands and yeah, the Zombie Apocylpse starts.  What do your characters do?

This is essentially the premise behind Völlig Losgelöst, a proposed 80s-themed horror game I wanted to do.  I dropped it largely because Dark Places & Demogorgons did what I wanted VL to do and did it quite well.  That's fine, much like my Zombie Cosmonauts, Völlig Losgelöst is coming back from the dead with a new-ish direction.  

This is German, not Russian, but still has a lost astronaut and is full of 80's pathos.

Ich komme bald.

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).


martine said...

Hi. I saw this article in the Guardian today and thought of you
thought you might find it interesting.

Tim Knight said...

The original Night of The Living Dead zombie apocalypse was started by a "satellite" crashing back to Earth (it's mentioned briefly in the news reports early on) and Lovecraft loved his "horrors falling from space" trope.

There are some pretty creepy (but obviously fake) audios on YouTube supposedly related to the 'lost cosmonauts' conspiracy, but while that's pretty grim and morbid if I were to employ this idea in my own game I'd go more the Quatermass Xperiment/Lifeforce route.

GeoffN. said...

Putting on my space historian hat... Two big pieces of evidence against the lost cosmonaut conspiracy are that the Vostok capsules which launched the first Soviet cosmonauts only ever reached very low Earth orbit (less than 200 miles up) at that altitude anything that got into space would have deorbited within a few months without active reboosting. Sputnik 1 had a similar perigee (lowest point in orbit) and only stayed up about 3 months.

Also, the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN) tracks every piece of orbital debris larger than a softball, and this includes stuff that circles out as far as the Moon. If there was a human rated spacecraft still adrift in orbit, guaranteed it would have been reported by official sources well before now, especially if it would embarrass a political adversary.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

@martine, Oh thank you for that!!

@Tim Knight, oh you know you had me at Quatermass!

@GeoffN, of course! I never expected it to be true but this is the first one where some doubt crept in. ;)

GeoffN. said...

I've been following the A to Z posts so wasn't trying to imply you bought into it. Since you acknowledged your lack of experience in this one, I thought I'd weigh in since it fits into my day job. I also really appreciate your debunking of the pencil meme, which was spot on.

Dick McGee said...

I feel like the best possible video inspiration for this is the old Scooby Doo episode Spooky Space Kook. Granted, it's supposed to be an alien ghost laughing it up in that one rather than a Soviet cosmonaut, but still - glowing skeleton in a spacesuit. Good stuff.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

@GeoffN, No worries! Love learning more and if you have that knowledge then it is welcome here!

@Dick McGee, YES!!!! Why didn't I think of that! That is perfect.

annucool15 said...

This is so insightful. I had no idea abt the pencil bits and the probability of cosmonauts' bodies still floating in space.

PT Dilloway said...

Maybe there aren't people up there, but how many dogs and monkeys and such did they shoot up there? That's probably where Cosmo the talking dog in Marvel Comics came from.

Anyway, I love that son. I have the original version and the Bill Shatner cover and there's a Rifftrax song based on the old movie "Missile to the Moon" that's sort of a parody of it.

Computer Tutor said...

What an interesting read. Didn't know any of that about lead pencisl!

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

Well, there is definitely at least one dog, and a bunch of monkeys.
But yeah. I keep seeing that meme, and I keep remembering an article that said the same thing about being flammable.

The Multicolored Diary

Pun Isaac said...

Well... I have an arc for my next Dark Places and Demogorgons game.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

To be fair, pencils can't write on glass. Assuming you want or need to write on glass. But perhaps some sort of wax pencil would write on glass, and also not have any dust, although it would probably be flammable... Or am I fixating on the wrong part of this theory? lol
L is for Language

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

To be fair, pencils can't write on glass. Assuming you want or need to write on glass. But perhaps some sort of wax pencil would write on glass, and also not have any dust, although it would probably be flammable... Or am I fixating on the wrong part of this theory? lol
L is for Language

Wolf of Words said...

Loving this theme. I hadn't really heard of this one but you're right that it would work well with a TTRPG. Horror from space is so much fun to play with. I've always been fascinated by "the beyond".