In the summer of 1984, six highly trained cosmonauts claimed to have had an unbelievable encounter with a group of gargantuan "celestial beings" of unknown origin in the star filled expanse above our world. Were these colossal beings the result of a mass delusion, a sign of something miraculous, or the heralds of unimaginable doom?
Scores of UFOs and other unidentified airborne objects have been spied by astronauts and their ilk since the earliest days of manned spaceflight. Major Gordon Cooper, Dr. Edgar Mitchell and dozens of other NASA and Russian space explorers harbor no doubt that the Earth is being visited and observed by non-human intelligences with access to technology far in advance of our own, but as fascinating as this phenomenon surely is, the bulk of these sightings pale before a bizarre series of encounters allegedly reported by cosmonauts aboard the Salyut 7 in July of 1984.
Mercifully, the bitter rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union never manifested in the hellfire of nuclear holocaust that once seemed so inevitable, but for those of us who remember living under that horrific cloud of atomic anxiety a serious question remains: “Did we managed to dodge this apocalyptic bullet by chance or was there some kind of divine intervention?”
The series of events that occurred on the Salyut 7 do not answer this question, but, rather, compel us to consider the possibility that there are “others” in this universe that, in the most dire of times, manifest in ways that force us to question the very foundation of our beliefs as well as our place in the cosmos.
The Salyut 7 -- which translates as “Salute 7” -- was a low Earth orbit space station that was launched on April 19, 1982. The Salyut 7 represented the Soviet space program’s change from "monolithic" to more "modular" space stations and was first manned in May of 1982.
The station was ostensibly designed to conduct scientific experiments, but in July of 1984, the Salyut 7 would serve as the site of arguably the strangest close encounter in the relatively brief history of manned space exploration.
Although the “official” chronicling of this event is fraught with chronological inconsistencies, but, by the best estimations, the first reported sighting of these so-called “celestial beings” -- which would also come to be known as “space angels” -- occurred on July 12, 1984.
Cosmonauts Leonid Kizim, Vladimir Solovyov and cardiologist Oleg Atkov were on their astonishing 155th day aboard the Salyut 7, conducting “medical experiments,” when the trio noticed what they described as an “brilliant orange cloud” surrounding the station.
The Salyut 7 had been plagued by a steady stream of system failures and the men aboard the craft were understandably concerned that the glow might represent a life threatening fire. Fearing the worst, the cosmonauts rushed to the portholes only to find themselves blinded by an eerily intense luminescence the poured in through the circular apertures.
After their vision adjusted to the light, the curious cosmonauts radioed ground control that the station was bathed in an anomalous, self illuminated mist. The men returned to the portholes, shielding their eyes from the radiance, and that’s when they spied something so incredible that it would forever alter their perception of reality.
According to reports published in newspapers across the globe -- including, allegedly, the Washington Post -- the three Russian explorers saw colossal, winged, humanoid entities hovering just outside the station in the vacuum of space.
The faces of these beings were said to resemble those of humans with “peaceful expressions” and the Soviet scientists even claimed that the creatures noticed them and offered distinctly beatific smiles.
This quote was published in the later newspaper reports, although it's difficult to discern which cosmonaut it was credited to, though some have suggested it may have been Solovyov:
"What we saw were seven giant figures in the form of humans, but with wings and mist-like halos as in the classic depiction of angels."
The cosmonauts went on to described these mist haloed beings as being nearly 80-feet in height with a wingspan comparable to that of a 747 jet; although, it should be noted, that there’s no indication in the public record of how these men of science came to these proportional estimations. The men observed the soaring seraphim for approximately 10-minutes before they vanished; leaving the isolated and surely perplexed comrades to ponder what it was that they had seen and try to gather the courage to report it to their superiors below.
By their own admission, the cosmonauts were themselves reluctant to accept the existence of the oddly angelic beings which they had seen, and concluded that they were more likely suffering from some form of mass delusion brought on by their extended space travel than an actual encounter with alien -- or perhaps even divine -- entities. Their self induced denial would be put to the test 11-days later when additional cosmonauts arrived at the station and the celestial beings returned.
On the evening of July 17, 1984, at 5:41 pm., the Soyuz T-12 spacecraft launched from the LC31 pad of the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is located in the isolated backwaters of Kazakhstan, approximately 124-miles east of the Aral Sea.
The Soyuz T-12 carried with it Crew Commander Vladimir Dzhanibekov, Flight Engineer Svetlana Savitskaya and Research Cosmonaut Igor Volk. Hours later the craft docked with the Salyut 7.
The mission had been hastily thrown together just a month following an announcement made by NASA in November of 1983, stating that astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan would become the first woman to ever perform a spacewalk. The trio of cosmonauts had been tasked with an ostensibly simple mission -- make sure that Savitskaya would become the first woman to execute a spacewalk; thus beating the Americans to the punch.
Savitskaya had already ascended into the ranks of Soviet sanctioned idols in 1982, when she became the second woman to ever officially go into space -- although there remains speculation that she was actually the third and that the first perished in orbit -- and the powers that be in the Soviet space program wanted very much to post yet another victory their space race against the U.S.
Much to the chagrin of NASA, the Soviets made good on their plan to upstage the U.S. when, on July 25, 1984, Savitskaya engaged in an almost 4-hour EVA (Extra-vehicular activity), officially making her the first woman ever to do so.
As auspicious as this occasion was in both the annals of human space exploration and women's history, in the long run it would not be this incredible accomplishment that this journey would be known for, but a decidedly more ethereal series of events.
According to published reports, just days after the Soviet cosmonauts were safely nestled aboard the Salyut 7, the peculiar, orange glow once again enveloped the station and this time all six of the space travelers were said to have witnessed these gigantic, winged, ghostly beings keeping pace with the station, which they once again dutifully reported to an ever more alarmed ground control team below.
As the six cosmonauts stared out of the portholes one can only imagine that they must have been overwhelmed by sensations of awe, wonder and perhaps a touch of fear. After all these men and woman were highly trained pilots, scientists and even doctors who after years of knowing where they stood on the evolutionary scale were now confronted with enormous, humanoid creatures soaring unprotected in the dark vacuum of space; creatures that seemed not merely alien, but supernatural in origin. According to news accounts, one of the (again unnamed) cosmonauts was quoted as stating:
“They were glowing and we were truly overwhelmed. There was a great orange light, and through it, we could see the figures of seven angels. They were smiling as though they shared a glorious secret, but within a few minutes, they were gone, and we never saw them again.”
After the space angels disappeared a second time, Kizim, Solovyov and Atkov could no longer dismiss the phenomenon as a communal hallucination brought on by the pressure of a long mission in orbit. They now shared this encounter with three new witnesses, all of whom -- one might expect -- were just as perplexed and frightened as the first set on cosmonauts days earlier. This left both the explorers and the crew at mission control to ponder the question…
Upon their return, each of the cosmonauts were subjected to a battery of physical and psychological examinations to try and see if there might be a medical explanation for this potentially heavenly phenomenon, but -- according to all accounts -- they passed both with flying colors.
If one is to believe the testimony as it’s been presented, then the medical diagnosis leaves only one of two viable conclusions. The first is that six cosmonauts -- in two separate instances -- were willing to seriously jeopardize their careers, reputations and even their very lives (not to mention opened a Pandora’s Box of questions regarding their psychological well being) all for the sake of a “prank.”
The second conclusion is, quite simply, that they saw “angels,” or at the very least anomalous astronautic entities that bear a very distinct resemblance to what many of the followers of the Abrahamic traditions would consider to be divine messengers. Of course, there are more than a few who stand firmly by the proposition that these otherwise level headed men and woman fell prey to nothing more than a…
The evidence for mass hallucinations is dubious at best. While episodes of mass hysteria have been chronicled throughout the ages -- most of which having to do with a perceived physical ailments or more social phenomena that extend over substantial periods of time -- there is very little to suggest that individuals are privy to simultaneous and shared hallucinations.
While there have been reports of individual cosmonauts and astronauts who have seen some decidedly surreal (and occasionally Godly) things from their spacecraft -- a phenomenon which NASA researchers have attributed to pressure, temperature fluctuations and oxygen shortage -- there’s nothing in the medical record to suggest that these experiences are in any way contagious. In short, barring some kind of heretofore undiagnosed psychic phenomenon, there’s simply no known way to share a delusion as specific as the one that the cosmonauts of the Salyut 7 are believed to have succumbed to.
The current psychological certainty that thoughts are not infectious, combined with the fact that we are dealing with a group of scientists and seasoned space explorers who, by necessity, are not prone to panic or flights of fancy, makes it all but inconceivable that a mass hallucination is the culprit in this case.
So, if for the sake of argument, we agree that we’re not dealing with what is tantamount to a figment of the cosmonauts’ collective imaginations, then we’ve got to at least consider the possibility that we may be contending with authentic entities of either biological or spiritual origin. Perhaps we should cut to the chase and consider the most obvious -- and in some ways most disturbing -- option. That these creatures are angels and that they might just be…
I know that for some it might seem like a stretch jumping from what most people would consider to be a benignly heartwarming encounter with celestial beings to the end of the world as we know it, but as a former altar boy and parochial school student there is one thing I know all too well; and that is that when seven angels show up trouble is not far behind.
In my more seasoned years I’ve found a great deal of comfort in eastern philosophies and both Buddhist and Hindu traditions, but as a child I was trapped like a fly in the web of Roman Catholicism. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a great deal of respect for the teachings of the Abrahamic religions and feel that a tremendous amount of truth lies within their venerated tomes, but there is an overwhelming dire vibe that comes from many of these ancient records and perhaps the most celebrated of these is the Holy Bible’s “Book of Revelations.”
Anyone familiar with Jewish or Christian traditions is probably aware of the fact that the number seven is considered by many to be a sacred number, which represents rectitude and sanctity. The number seven also plays a significant role in the so-called “end of days.”
Note this passage from Revelations 15:1 in which seven angels are said to bear seven trumpets, the sound of which is said to signify the coming of the Apocalypse. They were also said to have “bowls” containing the plagues which would sow the seeds of mankind’s ultimate extinction:
“I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues -- last, because with them God's wrath is completed.”
Is it possible that seven angels appeared before these emissaries of the U.S.S.R. as a warning of what would come if both they and the U.S.A. did not tone down their heated rhetoric before the Cold War turned thermonuclear hot?
While I must admit that I’m not convinced that the “Book of Revelations” is anything more than a metaphorical warning for sinners to mend their ways before it’s too late, if there’s even a chance that it’s the simple truth, then I hope the former option is the correct one and that the angels were showing themselves in an attempt to avert, rather than proclaim, global disaster.
And for those who might suggest that these peacefully smiling angels could not possibly have nefarious intentions I would only state that, according to scripture, the purpose of the Apocalypse is not to cause evil, but to eliminate it from the Earth… and what angel would not be happy about that?
Okay, now that we’ve discussed just a few of the theological implications of the existence of outer space angels, let’s consider a somewhat more plausible hypothesis, which is that these celestial beings are…
Thanks to the History Channel's hit series "Ancient Aliens," there's been a worldwide revival of Zecharia Sitchin and, famed author of "Chariots of the Gods," Erich Von Dänike’s theories regarding extraterrestrial ambassadors who supposedly visited Earth thousands of years ago and profoundly affected the evolution of the human race and civilization itself.
According to these two authors, ancient aliens were not looked upon as otherworldly explorers by these primitive peoples -- who would have no frame of reference for such a thing -- but (understandably) were worshiped by our ancestors as nothing less than gods. Von Dänike’s theories applied not only to primitive religious traditions, but to every major theology on the planet, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Stories of angels serving as messengers of God are present in the written testaments of all three major monotheistic religions -- not to mention Hinuism -- and represent one of the most commonly utilized methods for the divine to communicate with Earthlings in ancient times. Von Dänike and their acolytes are convinced that these beings were not of heavenly, but extraterrestrial, origin.
If we are to entertain this possibility, even for the sake of discussion, then we must consider the prospect that the six cosmonauts aboard the Salyut 7 might have seen not God's messengers, but corporeal manifestations of these unique alien creatures, which have communicated with mankind since the dawn of history.
Granted, there’s no more evidence to support this “biological” theory, than there is to support the more “theological” supposition, but it’s intriguing to contemplate nonetheless. Of course, leaving behind both the metaphysical and the extraterrestrial, we are forced to wonder if this is all one, big…
One of the major problems in investigating the authenticity in a case such as this lies in the fact that there is no filter that separates the proverbial “wheat” of what may be a legitimate anomalous sighting from the “chaff” of reports from such dubious sources as the Weekly World News.
Who can blame academics or respectable researchers for turning a blind eye to events like those that puportedly took place on the Salyut 7, when stories of the cosmonauts unusual sightings lay side by side with obvious tripe about the Hubble telescope photographing a colossal white city in the depths of space that must be (eye rolls please) the first picture of Heaven?
Conspiracy theories have circulated for years concerning the Hubble Telescope snapping angelic images in the NGC-3532 star cluster that have been shared with only the highest echelons of the U.S., Soviet and French governments as well as Pope John Paul II in the Vatican, who had speculated that these “beings of light” might not be heaven sent. According to these reports the spectacular photos are allegedly being kept under wraps due to the fact that knowledge of the angel’s existence may well through the citizens of Earth into a global tizzy… or so these rumors claim.
This lack of distinction between the work of serious academic researchers and the ramblings of religious zealots is one that also plagues some cryptozoologists, whose investigations into such intriguing phenomena as the Mokele Mbembe and other relic dinosaurs are often co-opted by creationists looking to confirm their own beliefs by reinterpreting native eyewitness accounts to suit their own theological agendas.
While, as stated above, I have nothing but respect for anyone’s personal beliefs, when one is striving to make a legitimate scientific inquiry into events as surreal as those that took place aboard the Salyut 7, then one must take great pains to separate the facts from faith. This is virtually impossible in today’s online climate.
Another fact which bears scrutiny is a news report regarding Vladimir Solovyov’s tour of British schools, which appeared in the Derby Evening Telegraph on January 23, 1997. While visiting Brackensdale and Reigate Junior Schools, Solovyov was asked about whether or not he had ever encountered any alien beings. Here is an excerpt from the Telegraph’s article:
“If you believe the Washington Post Mr Solovev has already come face-to-face with beings from another planet and seven angels who surrounded his craft on a mission in 1984. He added: ‘I could not believe they put that in such a serious paper… I've never seen any aliens but I am sure we are not alone in the universe.’”
On the surface Solovyov’s comments seem to put to rest this controversy once and for all, but things are rarely as clear cut as that. To begin with, following his career as a cosmonaut, Solovyov became the Mir flight director before temporarily retiring on February 18, 1994, only to return to lead the Russian section of the International Space Station.
One has to ask the serious question of whether or not a man in Solovyov’s position would be sabotaging his own career and reputation by confirming such a bizarre event. The answer, of course, is that the mass media would become extremely derisive on anyone claiming to have had an encounter with massive space angels and a man of Solovyov’s stature could ill afford to be made a fool of.
Of course, the alternative is that it’s all just pop culture drivel, but who would take the time to make something like this up and what would be the point? And if the original sources used in this story were dubious to begin with then why would this account have been printed in such prestigious publications as the Washington Post or the 1985, New Year's Edition of the popular Sunday supplement Parade Magazine? Proof? No. Bit it is food for thought.
While scores of notable historical events captured headlines during the penultimate act of the Cold War, the strange sightings hailing from the Salyut 7 barely made a ripple in the vast sea of information that the media reported regarding U.S./Soviet relations in the 1980s, and when they did so they would come hot on the heels of a momentous event in the record of manned astronautics -- Savitskaya’s space walk.
Although rumor has it that their sighting was immediately classified as a state secret, the tale of the cosmonauts’ run-in with these strange seraphim did eventually make the international news, which is astonishing considering how well the Soviet secrets machine managed to maintain all but total silence regarding other odd events, such as the Dyatlov Pass incident in 1959.
Nevertheless, in the decades that have followed the initial event, this account has taken on a life of its own and has continued to spread with a dogged persistence. Is this due to the fact that the truth has a way of lingering even in the face of conventional logic and fanatical skeptics? Or is it the human fascination with the unknown, particularly the idea of divine intervention, that keeps this legend alive?
While there’s a chance that this whole story in nothing more than wildly exaggerated hearsay, there’s also a minute possibility that celestial beings showed themselves to a group of humans who represented a nation that was among the most dangerous of the 20th Century.
Mayhap this was an an effort to get the U.S.S.R to change their ways… or perhaps the arrival of these entities indicates that it is already too late.