Gagarin became a legend when he became the first person to blast into space on April 12, 1961. With his infectious humor, movie star looks, and impressive charisma he quickly captured the imagination of an entire generation. He became an undisputed rock star for the Soviets in an era where ‘stardom’ was dominated by the Americans.
He lunched with the queen of England, explored the pyramids with the president of Egypt, and danced with the Cuban President Fidel Castro. Gagarin charmed the world with his gregarious personality and enjoyed meeting various heads of state, royals, and actors who were all amazed by his journey.
He started feeling depressed and somewhat useless as he started drinking heavily. As his friend and Cosmonaut training head, General Nikolai Kamanin writes about him.
Gagarin was only 34 years old at that time.
The investigation into his death was classified as “absolutely secret” and was signed off by Communist Party chief, Leonid Brezhnev himself. It has been more than five decades since then and even now many conspiracy theorists just don’t believe that the man who conquered space can die so cheaply in a routine training flight.Then it went silent.
As the investigations started, it was found that both men had died immediately in the crash. Gagarin’s body was not found until the next day, creating some hope that he had ejected and survived. Seryogin ‘s body was found near the remains of the plane.
About 200 investigators were enrolled in the investigations that went on for more than 8 months. But after doing such extensive study, the Soviet government did something bizarre that resulted in fuelling numerous conspiracy theories over five decades.
The Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev suppressed its findings and consigned the 30-volume report to the archives. Investigators were ‘instructed’ from publishing a summary of their conclusions as it would “unsettle” the nation and the matter was quietly forgotten.
Other theories that were conjured were too fantastic; that he had been abducted by aliens, that he had survived the crash and died in a Soviet psychiatric ward in 1990, that Serugin had killed both of them because he was jealous of Gagarin, and so on….
It was only decades later, less sensational and more logical theories came into the picture once the Soviet archives were opened. In 2001, retired Soviet Air Force Colonel Igor Kuznetsov and a team of researchers studied the accident and concluded that an open vent caused Gagarin’s demise.
According to Kuznetsov, when Gagarin realized the cockpit’s air vent was open, he began a descent to 6,500 feet as per the airplane’s operation manual. However, he moved too quickly, lost consciousness, and crashed.
And the Soviets covered it up because this easily ‘preventable’ accident would be a massive PR disaster for them as their national hero died in a freak crash caused by human error. It was the era of the space race and the Soviets just did not want this embarrassment to be surfaced to the world.
While the truth about why he came crashing down to Earth may never be really known, the fact that Gagarin was a star and much-beloved hero can never be blemished by this freak downturn of fate.