A gallery of doctored cosmonaut photos


Wired has a gallery of before-and-after photos showing how the Soviet Union airbrushed some cosmonauts out of history. These are absolutely fascinating, not just because of the uncovered lies—but because what was being lied about turned out to be much less horrible than anybody in the West had guessed. Former NASA scientist James Oberg explains:

Western space enthusiasts, including me, eventually found both versions of some of these photographs, and in some cases, three or four different versions. Side-by-side publication of the forgeries sparked widespread mockery of the clumsiness of the Soviet lies. This led to a series of awkward attempts to explain the photos, that let slip even more information.

Finally, under Gorbachev's glasnost in the final years of the Soviet regime, the USSR's own devoted space journalists and historians were able to track down and share the names and fates of the men who had been deleted by clumsy censors.

The lies illustrated by these images fueled Western suspicions that a number of cosmonauts had died in secret space disasters, but it turns out this wasn't true. The erased men had either misbehaved and been expelled, or even more innocently, had simply developed disqualifying medical conditions.