Neil Armstrong is widely recognized as the first person to set foot on the moon, but the history of space travel is more complex than that. While many know that Alan Shepard paved the way for American astronauts by entering space on May 5, 1961, and Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, ventured into Earth orbit on April 12 of the same year, rumors have long circulated suggesting that Gagarin might not have been the first.
Gagarin, celebrated as a national hero in the Soviet Union, spent 108 minutes in space, orbiting the Earth before returning safely. However, even before Gagarin’s historic flight, rumors emerged that another cosmonaut might have successfully entered space earlier, on April 7, just five days before Gagarin’s mission.
Dennis Ogden, a correspondent for the British Communist Party newspaper, Daily Worker, reported on this alternative spaceflight, claiming that a test pilot, Vladimir Ilyushin, had undertaken the mission. French journalist Eduard Bobrovsky later corroborated this account, stating that the flight occurred on March 25, not April 7. However, this mission supposedly didn’t go as planned, with Ilyushin’s return allegedly involving off-course landing, injuries, and even a potential coma.
The Soviet Union vehemently denied these reports and instead focused on Gagarin’s successful mission. The skepticism and secrecy surrounding early Soviet space endeavors have fueled conspiracy theories, with some suggesting that the Soviets sought to bury a potential failure in the competitive Space Race. Despite these theories, there’s little concrete evidence to challenge Gagarin’s status as the first human in space, although the intrigue and speculation continue to this day.