Astronaut’s Outer Space Discovery Was Revealed 50 Years Later

Before the notorious space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was in full swing, exploring outer space helped provide us with a ton of new information about the universe we live in. One astronaut named Gordon Cooper came across an interesting discovery, but he kept it a secret. NASA sponsored a mission, and Gordon Cooper was chosen for the project.

Gordon Cooper in his astronaut uniform with a model ship with steam coming out next to him
Source: NASA

While he was in outer space, Cooper’s job was to collect valuable information regarding how our galaxy works. He was fascinated with the universe. As he was orbiting our planet, he noticed something mysterious on the earth’s surface. He continued his investigation when he came back to Earth. However, he kept his discovery a secret for about five decades only for it to finally be exposed.

Check out what Gordon Cooper saw while he was floating in outer space.

A Passion For Flying

When he was just seven years old, Gordon Cooper’s father, an Army colonel from Oklahoma, allowed his son to ride his airplane with him. He even let the child take the controls for a little bit. This simple experience is what sparked Cooper’s interest in flying. He absolutely loved anything that had to do with it. He dreamed of becoming a pilot one day.

The original 7 astronauts around a table admiring an Atlas model rocket
The Original 7 astronauts, circa 1959. Source: Shutterstock

Cooper served in the Marines and the Air Force before he turned 32 and worked as a test pilot on Edwards Air Force Base. That’s where he recommended industry-altering improvements to the F-108B Delta Dart jet fighter. Then, he got an incredible offer. In 1959, NASA invited Cooper to Washington DC.

The Mercury Project

The reason NASA summoned Cooper to come to Washington, D.C., was because he was a potential candidate for the Mercury Project. The project’s intention was to put a person (astronaut) into Earth’s orbit and then return him back to our planet safely. Cooper appeared to be the perfect candidate for the position.

The original seven astronauts of Faith 7
Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Donald Slayton. Photo by Granger / Shutterstock

Gordon was placed on a shortlist of 109 potential contenders. Ultimately, NASA picked Cooper and seven other guys to participate in the project. He conducted his first mission in 1963, and it was aboard the Faith 7 – a tiny craft that the only people who could fit inside must be less than five feet and 11 inches tall.

Oklahoma Boy Goes to Space

NASA gave the enthusiastic Oklahoma boy some simple instructions: Go into space alone, survive, and while you’re there, study zero gravity’s long term effects on the human body. Well, as far as the public was concerned, this was the mission. But not everything goes according to plan…

Walter H. Schirra Jr., Donald K. Slayton, John H Glenn Jr., Scott Carpenter, Alan B. Shepard Jr., Gus Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper in their spacesuits.
Photo by Everett Collection / Shutterstock

The Mercury Project started off excitingly well. For about 35 hours between May 15th and 16th, Cooper was orbiting the Earth. He was the first astronaut to ever sleep in space. Things seemed to be going according to plan. But in the midst of this huge accomplishment, a disaster almost struck. Technical difficulties happen all the time, but when someone is in outer space, it can be extremely dangerous.

Astronaut? Or Photographer?

Basically, as Faith 7 was coming back to the planet, the automatic piloting system malfunctioned. Cooper was an experienced and skilled flier, so he didn’t panic. What he did do was take over the controls and maneuver his way back to Earth. He landed in the ocean and was picked up by helicopter and was taken to an aircraft carrier. Mission complete… right?

Astronaut John Glenn entering the Friendship 7 spacecraft in 1962.
Photo by Granger / Shutterstock

What the public wasn’t aware of was that part of Cooper’s mission was to take pictures. In a message to ground control, he said: “Man, all I do is take pictures, pictures, pictures. I’m up to 5,245 now.” Looking for eye-catching shots was only part of the mission. He was doing much more than that.

Interesting Observation

Cooper’s camera had a special feature. It was able to detect magnetic aberrations along the surface of the Earth. Because of that, Cooper was able to secretly spy and look for Soviet nuclear bases or submarines that ended up off the coast of the United States. He discovered some mind-blowing things.

A photograph of Earth from space by Gordon Cooper
Source: Twitter

While he was looking for secret nuclear bases, Cooper found hundreds of abnormalities next to the Caribbean. He carefully charted them in the Faith 7 spacecraft. However, the aberrations that he discovered weren’t big enough to be nuclear sites. Not even close. So the big question is, what exactly are they? Did Cooper even know what he was looking at?

Keeping the Discovery a Secret

Cooper himself wasn’t even sure what he saw from space, but he did have some guesses, and they needed to be researched further. For whatever reason, Cooper never told the Department of Defense or NASA about these mysterious anomalies. He chose to make this his own personal mission.

Gordon Cooper being pulled out of the ‘Faith 7’ spacecraft after being pulled out of the water
Gordon Cooper recovery, 1963. Source: Shutterstock

After returning back to Earth safely, Cooper started to look into what he had discovered. The anomalies he noticed appeared to have been clustered around old trading routes that were highly trafficked by Spanish ships. There is no way this was just a coincidence. He continued his investigation and took a closer look. Eventually, he made a connection between the shipping routes and possible shipwrecks.

Let the Investigation Begin

When Cooper linked the shipping routes to possible shipwrecks, he did immense research about shipwrecks – very old shipwrecks that went back centuries. After learning about the shipwrecks for an extended amount of time, he was finally confident enough that he noticed some of these from space. So what exactly does this all mean?

Gordon Cooper in his spacecraft
Gordon Cooper. Source: Shutterstock

It took a while for the rest of the world to find out. Cooper had a long and impressive career, which included a mission on Gemini 5. During that mission, he spent 190 hours in space. However, Cooper never really got to explore what he had found. But the older he was getting, the more time was running out.

Passing Down the Map

Suffering from Parkinson’s at the end of his life, Cooper didn’t want his secret discovery and everything he learned to be forgotten. He decided to call his friend Darrell Miklos, an explorer who was experienced in searching for Rocketship debris. Cooper wanted Miklos to investigate on his behalf.

The map which shows where the weird spots that Gordon saw from space
Source: Pinterest

In 2004, Cooper sadly passed away. At this point, he had already given all his maps and information to his trustworthy friend. Finally, it was time for Miklos to take over and investigate what Cooper saw from space all those decades ago. Was there any truth to it? Or did he look too deep into this? It looks like Miklos was about to find out.

Cooper’s Treasure

During an interview with Parade magazine, Miklos said, “I believe Gordon 100 percent. I didn’t need proof.” The Discovery Channel didn’t need proof either. In 2017, they teamed up with Miklos and created Cooper’s Treasure, a T.V. show that documented the entire investigation.

Everyone diving on the show ‘Cooper’s Treasure.’
A screenshot from the show ‘Cooper’s Treasure.’ Source: YouTube

So I know you’re curious about what exactly they found. Well, on one journey, Miklos and his team went to a specific place on Cooper’s map, where they searched for evidence of a shipwreck. They got into full deep-sea diving gear for this investigation. They surveyed the bottom of the ocean, looking for a sign. Sure enough, the crew did uncover something significant that can really help them solve the mystery.

Finding Proof

They found a huge anchor down in the ocean. They pulled it up to their deck, and it didn’t take them long to figure out that it was from the Christopher Columbus era. That old anchor was an extremely valuable artifact from history. It was a remarkable find. Does this mean Cooper was right all along?

The divers bringing the anchor up
Source: YouTube

Cooper and his squad searched five different locations on Cooper’s map by mid-2017. They found evidence of a shipwreck at all five of them. This was huge for the investigation. It was quickly becoming very obvious that Cooper knew exactly what he was talking about. The crew had hundreds of spots left to investigate, and they couldn’t wait to see what other treasures they were about to find.

Finishing What Cooper Started

Miklos was ready to travel to the other locations, but it would take some time. He plans on completing what Cooper had started. In an interview with Newsweek, Miklos revealed, “I hear Gordon [Cooper] all the time in the back of my head: ‘you’re on the right trail!’” It certainly looks that way. He would have made Cooper so proud.

Miklos with a piece of a shipwreck they found
Miklos holding a piece of a shipwreck that they found while exploring. Source: YouTube

As it turned out, all of Cooper’s research was valuable for more than just shipwreck discoveries. Thanks to what he learned about gravity’s long-term effects, America found itself in a head to head battle with the Soviet Union. I think you know where this is going—the infamous space race.

The Space Race

So basically, the Soviet Union had one simple goal: to beat America. If they won, it would lift the essence of the Soviet People and solidify their place as the superpower in the world. What this means is that the Space Race was on, and it was heated – partly because of Cooper’s pioneering.

Salyut 1 in space
Salyut 1. Photo by Sovfoto / Universal Images Group / Shutterstock

That’s the reason the Soviet Union was desperate for their Soyuz 11 mission to be successful and effective. In 1971, they kicked America’s butt when they launched a space station into orbit – the Salyut. However, when they were unable to dock it with the Soyuz 10, the USSR faced some embarrassment. They were close… but not close enough.

The Soviets Needed A Win

The Soviets worked hard and had made some pretty remarkable achievements. However, their accomplishments didn’t seem impressive by 1969. Launching satellites for Sputnik and Sputnik 2 and putting the first human in space (Yuri Gagarin), didn’t mean much anymore. It couldn’t compare to America’s moon-walking accomplishment. The Soviet’s needed a win, and fast.

Soyuz 11 being prepared for launch
Soyuz 11. Source: Pinterest

The Soviets so badly wanted to get the upper hand once again and prove that their space station is fully-functional and ready. The Soyuz 11 mission was intended to dock the spaceship with the station successfully. Unfortunately, this mission didn’t go as planned. It was pretty much a disaster from the get-go.

Whole New Crew

Four days before the scheduled launching of the Soyuz 11, medics found early signs of tuberculosis in Valeri Kubasov, one of the crewmen. These were obviously unfortunate circumstances, and they should have killed the mission. Instead, they scraped together a new crew of three men and went on with the mission. This was definitely a space trip they shouldn’t have taken.

Georgy Dobrovolsk, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov in the cabin of the Soyuz 11 spacecraft
Georgy Dobrovolsk, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov inside of Soyuz 11. Photo by Sovfoto / Universal Images Group / Shutterstock

43-year-old Georgi Dobrovolsky was the commander and supervised Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev. The Soviets were focused on regaining their space dominance. Even though this was a backup crew, each of the three men was experienced and skilled cosmonauts. But they were brought on at the last minute.

3,2,1… Blastoff

Even though Dobrovosky and his men were experienced, they didn’t plan to take on this mission. Therefore, they didn’t have as much training as the original crew. They were only able to train for about four months before it was time to launch. Nevertheless, the Soviets were confident that they were ready for this.

Viktor Patsayev, Georgi Dobrovolsky, and Vladislav Volkov on board the Soyuz 11
Viktor Patsayev, Georgi Dobrovolsky, and Vladislav Volkov onboard the Soyuz 11. Photo by Sovfoto / Universal Images Group / Shutterstock

When the Soyuz 11 finally took off smoothly and made it to the Salyut 1 space station with an unharmed crew. The difficult part came next: The cosmonauts needed to doc the ship and physically set foot on the space station to complete the mission. Could they do it? Would they be able to dock the spacecraft?

Phase 1 – Complete

Dobrovolsky and his Soyuz 11 crew managed to accomplish what the Soyuz 10 couldn’t. Slowly and steadily, they docked their spacecraft in the space station successfully. Now all they had to do was get on. They were beyond excited. Then, they came across a huge problem as they stepped aboard.

The crew members of Soyuz 11
Source: Pinterest

As soon as the cosmonauts got on, they noticed a really bad smell, like something, might have been on fire. The Soviet crew immediately retreated to the Soyuz 11 for 24 hours and fixed up the ventilation system in the station. Finally, it was safe for them to step on Salyut 1… or at least that’s what they thought.

Television Appearances

Now that the smell was gone, the crew boarded the Salyut 1 safely and got to work. For their mission, they needed to study how zero gravity affects the human body, among a few other things. As part of their research, the cosmonauts were required to run on a treadmill while they were aboard the space station.

A member of Soyuz 11 climbing through a hatch
Source: Twitter

The best way to advertise this space mission was through regular television broadcasts. Dobrovolsky and his men were featured on television, giving progress reports so that the USSR and the rest of the world could broadcast it. However, just 11 days into the mission, the crew ran into yet another problem.

The Smoke Smell Returns

The Soyuz 11 crew started smelling the stench again. But this time, the smell came with smoke. Thankfully, the panic didn’t last a very long time. The cosmonauts quickly located where the smoke was coming from. They found what was malfunctioning and were able to fix the problem. Everything is looking good now, right?

The inside of the Salyut 1 space station leading into the Soyuz 11
The inside of Salyut 1, leading into Soyuz 11. Photo by Sovfoto / Universal Images Group / Shutterstock

The crew spent a total of 23 days aboard the Salyut 1. This meant they beat the record in special orbit by five days. In addition to holding a new record, Dobrobolsky and his team conducted 141 experiments; now, it was time for Dobrovolsky, Volkov, and Patsayev to go home after their long stay in outer space.

Time To Go Home

The crew collected all their research, which included recordings, notes, and more. They put it all on the Soyuz, and they were read. They all boarded the ship healthy and safe and undocked from the station. The ship was ready for its return to Earth, and that’s when everything went wrong.

A Soyuz spacecraft with a parachute attached landing in a field.
Photo by NASA / Carla Cioffi / Shutterstock

Before initiating their departure, Dobrovolsky and his crew orbited the Earth three times. They even spoke to the Mission Control team through radio, eager to see them when they get back to “Mother Earth.” The commander replied, saying, “Thank you, be seeing you.” Everything was going as planned, and they were headed back to their planet.

Smooth Sailing…?

The Soyuz 11 crew performed every procedure for landing correctly. The rockets on the ship blasted for the correct amount of time, the re-entry capsule was separated from the hull successfully, and its parachutes deployed. Everything appeared to be going smoothly.

The crew of Soyuz 11
Photo by Sovfoto / Universal Images Group / Shutterstock

However, Mission Control was no longer able to contact the crew on the Soyuz 11. They radioed them multiple times, but they didn’t get a response. That’s why, when the re-entry capsule landed completely out of the way in Kazakhstan, recovery units were extremely worried and rushed over there. Medics got to the scene to check out what was going on. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well as they seemed.

Bad News

Mission Control gave the Soyuz 11 crew strict instructions to exit the spacecraft without assistance. After spending 23 days in outer space, there is no way of knowing how their bodies would react. The Soviets requested medics on hand so that they can get immediate treatment. No one really understood what was going on.

The Soyuz 11 on the ground after landing, with people surrounding it waiting for the astronauts to come out
Source: Pinterest

Once the recovery team got to the sealed re-entry capsule, everything seemed fine. From the exterior perspective, it appeared as though everything had gone off without a glitch. The recovery team knocked on the exit hatch, but none of the cosmonauts answered them. Finally, they just opened it themselves. What they saw was a tragic sight.

Technical Difficulties

Russian official Kerim Keimov reported to Space Safety Magazine what the rescue team saw: “On opening the hatch, they found all three men in their [seats], motionless, with dark-blue patches on their faces and trails of blood from their nose and ears.” It was such a devastating situation. I can’t even imagine what it was like to discover the cosmonauts like that.

Land crew opening a scorched capsule
Photo by Everett Collection / Shutterstock

Rescue Units immediately rushed inside to help the three men. After removing them from the re-entry capsule, they laid them on the ground and performed CPR on Commander Dobrovolsky’s still-warm body. Unfortunately, it was no use. All three men died. So what the heck happened? Everything was going according to plan…

Vacuum Pods

Basically, while the re-entry capsule was falling towards Earth, an equalization valve regulating air pressure malfunctioned (as did many other things on the station). It tragically opened a bit too early, which made the pressure in the capsule match the pressure in space. At only 104 miles above ground, the pod became a vacuum.

Relatives and close friends of the Soyuz 11 crew paying respects during the funeral
Photo by Sovfoto / Universal Images Group / Shutterstock

When the vacuum conditions inside the capsule hemorrhaged all the blood vessels in their brains, the cosmonauts passed away. They were knocked out in seconds, and within minutes, they were all dead. Their death officially happened in space. Dobrovolsky, Volkov, and Patsayev did everything right. The problem was technical difficulties out of their control.

Lesson Learned

After the cosmonauts’ tragic deaths, the Soviet Union awarded Dobrovolsky, Volkov, and Pateyev with the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ gold stars, and held a memorial ceremony to honor the brave crew. This tragedy was a huge lesson for the USSR, America, and any other space-faring country.

Nasa Astronaut Bruce McCandless on a spacewalk.
Astronaut Bruce McCandless on a spacewalk. Photo by Granger / Shutterstock

If the three cosmonauts wore the correct gear, they would have survived. Once they figured that out, the USSR and the United States changed their protocol. From that moment on, crewmen must always wear a pressurized suit when depressurization is possible. Although that fatal mission killed three cosmonauts, since the new protocols went into play, no one else has ever died in space.

If you thought this was crazy, you will never believe how long Russian Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev was trapped in space for. I’ll give you a hint: more than 300 days!

Meet Sergei Krikalev

In 1991, Sergei Krikalev was sent on a space mission. It was supposed to last just five months. However, that cosmonaut was stuck in space for 311 days. Due to the Soviet Union and money issues, Krikalev wasn’t able to come back when he was scheduled to.

International Space Station and astronaut in outer space over the planet Earth.

When Germany purchased a $24 million ticket to send Klaus-Dietrich as a replacement, Krikalev was finally able to return. What could have possibly happened to trap someone in space? How was he able to return? Here is Krikalev’s story, his struggles, and his accomplishments.

All Aboard

On May 9th, 1991, Sergei Krikalev launched on the Soviet Space Station Mir for a five-month mission. In January 1992 Krikalev was into his eighth month of the mission and had no idea when he was coming home.

Sergei Krikalev

Krikalev was a flight engineer. He arrived at the Mir station with the first British astronaut, Helen Sharman, and Anatoly Artsebarsky, who spent five months aboard Mir. Sharman was conducting experiments and spent eight days on Mir.

Take Off

Krikalev and Artsebarsky were ultimately left alone on the space station after Sherman returned to earth. The two of them used their time well. They conducted numerous scientific experiments and touched up the space station.

Krikalev and Artsebarsky

On October 2, 1992, a relief crew bound for the Mir Station took off, as planned to take over from Artsebarsky. Krikalev already agreed to extend his tour because Toktar Audakirov, the scheduled replacement didn’t go through the training for long stays in space.

No Return Date

Artsebarsky, Aubakirov and Franz Viehböck, the first Austrian in space, all returned to earth on October 10th. Krikalev and Commander Aleksandr Volkov (who came on the October 2nd flight) stayed aboard. The two of them were alone in the space station.

Artsebarsky, Aubakirov, and Franz Viehböck

However, events at the U.S.S.R., down on earth put the date of their return in question. We’ll get to that later. First, let’s talk about the Mir Station. In 1976, the Mir project was initiated but a Soviet Decree. It took a decade before it made it to orbit.

Mir Station

Mir was named after the Russian word for “peace.” The U.S.S.R. intended to use the spacecraft for long-term research projects. In 1986, the Soviets launched the first of its modules. They did so from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which at the time, was part of the Soviet Union.

Mir space station

After the first module went into orbit, six more were added to complete the space station’s structure during the next decade. Mir orbited at a speed of over 17,000 miles per hour during its run. The altitude was between 220 and 232 miles away from earth.

Life on Mir

There Mir could accommodate up to six people. However, usually, just three cosmonauts lived there at once because it was so cramped. The station experienced 16 sunrises and sunsets every single day. Therefore, they had to back out portholes to stimulate night so that they can fall asleep.

astronauts on Mir

The cosmonauts usually woke up at about 8:00 AM on the Moscow time zone. In the morning, they ate breakfast and got ready, which can take a few hours. Then they work until 1:00 P.M. before coming home for lunch and a workout.

View of the Home Planet

After eating lunch, the cosmonauts spend another three hours working and one more hour of exercise. After that, they finally eat dinner and have some free time.

Astronauts eating is space

Krikalev told Discover Magazine about his favorite pastimes in space. He said, “Every spare moment, we tried to look at the earth.” This is pretty interesting because most people can’t relate.

Looking Down to Earth

In 1997 an American name Jerry Linenger spent time on Mir. He explained his experience of looking down on earth. “Today, I saw huge dust storms in the Sahara of Africa.”

Jerry Linenger

He continued and said, “Lake Chad drying up. Five minutes later: the Nile, the triangle of the Sinai Peninsula, and the Red Sea all in one view. Then, Elbrus and the snow-covered Caucasus.”

Krikalev and Volkov

Okay so back to Krikalev and Volkov, the men who were on Mir station in October 1991. They both spent time on the space station for 151 days is 1988-1989, so for both men, it’s their second time on Mir.

Krikalev and Volkov on space

In 1958, Krikalev was born in the Soviet city of Leningrad, which is now known as St. Petersburg. After high school, he attended the Leningrad Mechanical Institute. In 1981 he graduated with an honors degree in mechanical engineering.


Soon after Krikalev started working at a Russian company called NPO Energia. The company provided and designed services for the Soviet Union’s space program.


Krikalev was not only working in mission control, but he also developed space travel protocols and equipment. In addition, Krikalev was part of the team trying to salvage Salyut 7 space station in 1985, after the systems failed.

Krikalev’s Career

In 1985, Krikalev earned a place in the Soviet cosmonaut program. After he fully completed basic training one year later, he was chosen to be part of the Buran spacecraft initiative.

Sergei Krikalev

However, he was diverted to special training in 1988 for a mission aboard Mir. For the mission, he had to learn to undertake spacewalks.

Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Volkov

Aleksandr Volkov was born in Ukraine in 1948 when it was still part of the Soviet Socialist Republics. Despite being born and raised in Ukraine, Volkov came from a Russian background.

Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Volkov

Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space when Volkov was just 13! Apparently, this was Volkov inspiration to become a cosmonaut.

Volkov’s Career

Volkov attended Ukraine’s Chuguyev Higher Air Force School, where he trained as a pilot. After graduating in 1970, he worked as a test pilot for a few years.

Volkov trained as a pilot

He finally joined the cosmonaut program in 1976. In 1985, he got his first space flight abroad the Soyuz T-14 ship to the Soviets’ Salyut 7 space station.

These Two Men

In 1988, Volkov and Krikalev finally came together. They were both abroad a spacecraft called Soyuz TM-7 when it was launched from Baikonur bound for the Mir station.

Volkov and Krikalev

Krikalev was on board as the engineer and Volkov was the commander. Jean-Loup Chrétien was also abroad. In 1982 he was the first Frenchman in space.


The three Soviet cosmonauts with on board with three more newcomers for 25 days. This was the longest amount of time that six people lived in the cramped station.

Claustrophobia on air

After 25 days, two of the original cosmonauts and Chrétien returned to earth. However, Krikalev, Volkov, and Valeri Polyakov stayed aboard. At least they had more room now.

Long Way from Home

In April of 1989, the three of them returned to earth. Polyakov had been on board for 240 days, and Krikalev and Volkov spend 151 days in orbit, on their first time aboard Mir.

The soviet rocket

Polyakov went aboard Mir for the second time in 1994 and spent 437 days in space! It was the longest amount of time a person has been away from earth at the time.


After one mission on Mir, Krikalev decided to reenter training for a Mir project in 1990. For this mission, Krikalev was part of the back-up crew.

Sergei Krikalev

This meant that Krikalev could fly if someone from the original crew backs out. Since nobody dropped out, Krikalev stayed on earth during this mission.

Another Mission

However by December that year, Krikalev was already in training for another Mir mission. For this one, he was a first choice crew member and not a backup.

Sergei Krikalev

His preparation included making up to ten spacewalks. Krikalev returned to Mir abroad Soyuz TM-12 with soviet cosmonaut Anatoly Artsebarsky and scientist Helen Sherman.

Helen Sherman

In 1963, Sherman was born in Sheffield. She and 13,000 other people answered a radio ad, asking for people who want to be U.K.’s first astronaut. She was chosen and spent over a year of training intensely.

Helen Sherman

She finally went abroad Mir, and her stay in space was scheduled to be short. She got to go to space, but she returned to earth just seven days later.

Left in Space

Engineer Musa Manarov and crew commander Viktor Afanasyev were already abroad Mir when Krikalev, Artebarsky, and Sherman joined.

Astronauts on space

On May 26th, 1991, they all returned to earth except for Krikalev and Artsebarsky. During this time, Artsebarsky did six spacewalks and spent more than 33 hours outside the spacecraft.

Replacement Crew

There was a crew scheduled to come to replace Krikalev and Artsebarsky in October. However, the engineer who was supposed to take over for Krikalev didn’t have enough training for a long stay in space.

Krikalev on space

Due to the situation that July, Krikalev agreed to extend his stay on Mir. The relief crew still took off in mid-October 1991 but, not to replace Krikalev.


The three newcomers from the relief crew were, Commander Alexander Volkov, Austrian scientist Franz Viehböck, and from the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, Toktar Aubakirov.

Alexander Volkov, Franz Viehböck and Toktar Aubakirov

Supposedly, the Austrian government paid to soviets $7 million to get Viehböck aboard Mir. On October 10th, Viehböck, Aubakirov, and Artsebarsky returned to Earth.


Volkov and Krikalev were the only ones left on Mir. However, events at the U.S.S.R. complicated their stay. That August, just one month after Krikalev had agreed to extend his mission, Russia kicked things off.

Military coup in Moscow

However, on August 19th radical communists launched a military coup in Moscow because they were unhappy with the way things were going in the Soviet Union.

Changes Down on Earth

Many changes washed over the Soviet Union building up to the coup attempt. Since 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev was the state leader.

Mikhail Gorbachev

He oversaw reforms to the Soviet economy. In addition, he was lessening the strict censorship that the U.S.S.R. had for years. This resulted in affecting the space program.

Overthrowing Soviets

Many territories, including East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia overthrew their Soviet-supported communist government in 1989.

Russian Communist party

However, in 1991, the Russian Communist party decided on one more attempt to roll back the Gorbachev reforms. Tanks were pushed into Red Square in Moscow.

The End of the Soviet Union

This attempt ended in failure just two days later. However, it managed to destabilize what was left of the Soviet Union. By December that year, the Soviet Union was destroyed.

The End of the Soviet Union

Unfortunately, it led to putting the Soviet space program and Mir space station in question. This was because the spacecraft bound of Mir was launched from the Baikonur Kazakhstan base, one of the republics fighting for independence.

Kazakh on Board

The Soviet authorities agreed to send a Kazakh national to Mir in an attempt to keep Kazakhstan on board. Toktar Aubakirov was chosen and arrived on October 2nd, 1991.

Kazakh national

His stay aboard the space station was short. He went in place of an experienced cosmonaut that should have been the one to replace Krikalev.

No Return Date

Sergei Krikalev had been highly impacted by these events as 1991 continued, and things only got worse. On top of having already extended his original mission, there was no scheduled endpoint to his time on Mir.

Sergei Krikalev in interview

Krikalev admitted to Discover in 2016, that his prolonged stay in space was concerning. He was actually very stressed about how long he would be there for.

Not Enough Money

Krikalev didn’t really understand what was happening. He kept being told that there wasn’t enough money to bring him back to earth. Mission control kept telling him to wait a bit longer.

Sergei Krikalev on space

After another month passed, he kept getting the same answers. He said, “They say it’s tough for me – not really good for my health. But now the country is in such difficulty, the chance to save money must be the top priority.”


Krikalev expressed, “For us, it was totally unexpected. We didn’t understand what happened. When we discussed all this, we tried to grasp how it would affect the space program.”

Krikalev was taken by Doctors and policmans

As expected, he was also worried about his own health and well-being. “Do I have enough strength? Will I be able to readjust for this longer stay to complete the program? Naturally, at one point, I had my doubts.”


The Washington Post ran a story in 1992 titled, “Left in Space: The Cosmonaut’s Endless Orbit.” At that point, Krikalev was orbiting the earth for about nine months.

Washington Post

The article stated that Krikalev got to speak to his wife Elena each week. What they didn’t mention, however, was that she was actually working at mission control.

Family Struggles

Elena described her thoughts about the called to Discover Magazine. She explained, “I tried never to talk about unpleasant things because it must have been hard for him.”

Krikalov’s wife

As far as I can make out, Sergei was doing the same thing.” I can only imagine how tough it was for Elena back at home. The couple even had a new baby.

He Deserves Honey

In addition to the stress of being trapped in space, Krikalev wasn’t making that much money being a cosmonaut. He earned just 500 Rubles a month which was equivalent to $2.50.

Sergei Krikalov

If you think the situation couldn’t get worse, Russia’s economic situation was also negatively affecting Krikalev’s comforts aboard the Mir. He loved honey, but sadly, there was a shortage in Russia. Instead, he received onions and horseradish as a substitute. The worst possible replacements for honey.

Coming Home

Ultimately, a replacement team was on its way. Krikalev and Volkov would finally be able to go back to earth. On March 25th, 1992, both men arrived at their home planet safely, landing in Kazakhstan.

Krikalev and Volkov came back home

However, by that time, Krikalev had circled the earth at least 5,000 times! He stayed in space for 311 days, which was a world record at the time. Unfortunately, he came back to his country, ruined.

Home Sweet Home

For Krikalev to return to earth, Germany paid $24 million to buy a ticket for Klaus-Dietrich Flade, his replacement. However, he finally made it back.

Klaus-Dietrich Flade

It was reported that Krikalev’s appearance was “Pale as flour and sweaty like a lump of wet dough” when he returned. Not bad for someone stuck in space for over 300 days.

Getting Back on the Horse

Incredibly, the fearless Krikalev didn’t seem to be too affected by his uncertain stay aboard the Mir. In October of 1992, NASA promised to launch a space shuttle with a Russian on board.

Krikalev on NASA

The Russian Space Agency chose Krikalev as one of the cosmonauts to train for this revolutionary partnership between Russia and America. In 1994 the shuttle launched and Krikalev was aboard.


An American named Robert Cabana and Krikalev were the first two astronauts aboard the International Space Station in 1998. He returned to the space station two more times and even did a six-month stay in 2005.

Robert Cabana and Krikalev

Krikalev spent a total of 803 days in space and was on six different missions by the time he retired as a cosmonaut. However, he continued to work as a director of manned spaceflight at Russia’s Roscosmos State Corporation.

Beating His Records

Although Krikalev spent 311 days in space and unintentionally broke the record, he got beat a few years later. Valeri Polyakov beat him staying in space for 438 consecutive days.

Valeri Polyakov

In 2018, Gennady Padalka also broke Krikalev’s record. Astronaut, Gennady Padalka spent a total of 879 days in space, while Krikalev was there for 803 days. Still impressive if you ask me.

Space World Records

The world record for the most space missions for one person is seven. This record is held by two astronauts. Jerry L. Ross and Franklin Chang-Diaz.

Jerry L. Ross and Franklin Chang-Diaz

John Young is another astronaut breaking a world record! Young holds the record for being in command or piloting four different space shuttles.

More Records

The youngest person to ever fly in a rocket ship was Gherman Titov, who was just 25 years old at the time. The oldest person to fly was John Glenn. He was 77 when he broke that record.

Gherman Titov

The crew for the Apollo 13 moon mission was the farthest astronauts have ever been from the earth. It was 401,056 km which is about 249,205 miles. Good thing they didn’t get lost out there!