After the successful orbital flight of Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet authorities wanted to give a further demonstration of their superiority: Alan Shepard had finally entered space on May 5, 1961, but only for a brief, suborbital flight. The U.S.S.R. would send into orbit the first woman cosmonaut, before the americans could even attempt their first orbital flight. And while the americans were planning one additional suborbital flight before attempting a flight of only three orbits, the russian woman cosmonaut would fly 17 times around the earth.
The launch took place on the 16th of May, 1961. We don’t know what went wrong during the flight, but re-entry had to be delayed. It is possible that the thermal shield of the Vostok capsule may have been damaged during launch. A decision was finally made to attempt re-entry on May 23rd, due to the dwindling air supplies.
The italian listening post manned by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers had, by now, learned how to intercept the voice communications between the spacecraft and mission control, in addition to the physiological data received on the previous missions.
The document we are presenting is dramatic and unsettling: the cosmonaut can be heard complaining about the increasing ambient temperature, in a professional voice which yet betrays the knowledge of a mission gone terribly wrong. In the end, when flames start engulfing the capsule, the voice becomes heart-rending.
A full english translation is presented, together with the original voice recording.
Three days later, on May 26, 1961, TASS, the soviet press agency announced the return to earth on the 23rd of a large, unmanned satellite which burned upon re-entering the atmosphere. The satellite was the size of a city bus. Its launch had not been previously disclosed and its purpose was unknown.