The Lost Cosmonaut

The Lost Cosmonaut

February 18, 1966 - Just before dawn on this day, a Soviet cosmonaut named Grigori Nelyubov was wandering drunk and stepped in front of a train. The death was ruled a suicide and the subsequent cover-up would fuel rumors about lost cosmonauts.

As a pilot in the Soviet Air Force, Nelyubov was one of the original cosmonauts selected for the Russian space program. After extensive testing and training, Nelyubov was among an elite group of six men with a good chance to be the first man in space. But on April 12, 1961, it was his comrade Yuri Gagarin who got the call.

Nelyubov was slated as a backup for the second space mission, and he continued to train as he patiently waited his turn. The second mission came and went and Nelyubov was still waiting in the wings.

On March 27, 1963 Nelyubov and two of his fellow cosmonauts ventured off the base for a night of drinking. After a few too many beers they were getting rowdy in a train station when a security patrol approached them. One of the policemen said, "Come on guys, you've got to leave, it's not allowed." A belligerent Nelyubov proceeded to get into a shoving match and the men were arrested for being drunk and disorderly. The officers who arrested them offered to forget the whole thing if the cosmonauts apologized, but a defiant Nelyubov refused.

When his commanders heard the news, Nelyubov and his two comrades were kicked out of the space program. To avoid embarrassment, Russian authorities took steps to remove mention of the cosmonauts from the public record. In one infamous example, Nelyubov was airbrushed out of a publicity photo showing the first team of cosmonauts.

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