Some of the most seemingly reliable and extraordinary accounts of seeing UFOs are made by astronauts, those brave individuals who risk their lives penetrating into the depths of space in order to help us try and understand this last great frontier. There have been many supposed sightings made not only by astronauts, but also their Russian counterparts, the cosmonauts, and these are the reports that have become perhaps more lost to history. Russia has had a long a notorious reputation for cover-ups with its space program, with the mystery of lost cosmonauts being chief amongst them, but there have also apparently been quite a few Russian cosmonaut UFO reports that were swept under the carpet and have only by chance managed to see the light of day in any form. A lot of the strange reports of UFOs made by Russian cosmonauts have supposedly occurred aboard the country’s sprawling, cutting edge space stations, and here we will look at some of the strangest.
One of the more well known of the many Russian space station projects is the Soviet orbital space station called the Salyut 6, launched on September 29, 1977 to much hype due to its remarkable improvements to technology that made it superior to its predecessors, such as a new propulsion system, a second docking port, and various other bells and whistles. The revolutionary Salyut 6 was touted as the first of a new wave of “second generation” space stations that was to pave the way into the future, and it was the first that could actually be docked by unmanned vessels for resupply missions. It also seems to have had its share of strange UFO phenomena surrounding it.
One such incident was mentioned in an article in Fate Magazine, and was apparently brought to light through a dossier from the archives of the old Soviet Ministry of Defense, as well as a document called “Thread-3,” which were all acquired by the Las Vegas KLAS-TV journalist George Knapp in 1992. The documents are full of all sorts of strange encounters with UFOs, and one of these was allegedly experienced on June 17, 1978, by cosmonauts Vladimir Kovalenok and Alexander Ivanchenko. On this day an object was observed to be flying under the space station and somewhat matching their speed, as if it was observing them. Kovelanok would say of it to his control center at the time:
On the right, at an angle of 30 degrees there is an object flying under us. It is something very much like a tennis ball, bright as a flaring up star. Its rate is lower than ours.
Kovalenok would have another UFO encounter aboard the Salyut 6 in May of 1981, when he saw an object near the space station that seemed to be pulsating and moving erratically as it seemingly followed them. He would say of what he saw in an interview with Italian reporter Giorgio Bongiovanni:
On May 5, 1981, we were in orbit [in the Salyut-6]. I saw an object that didn’t resemble any cosmic objects I’m familiar with. It was a round object which resembled a melon, round and a little bit elongated. In front of this object was something that resembled a gyrating depressed cone, I can draw it, it’s difficult to describe. The object resembles a barbell. I saw it becoming transparent and like with a ‘body’ inside. At the other end I saw something like gas discharging, like a reactive object. Then something happened that is very difficult for me to describe from the point of view of physics. I have to recognize that it did not have an artificial origin. It was not artificial because an artificial object couldn’t attain this form. I don’t know of anything that can make this movement… tightening, then expanding, pulsating. Then as I was observing something happened, two explosions. One explosion, and then 0.5 seconds later, the second part exploded. I called my colleague Viktor [Savinykh], but he didn’t arrive in time to see anything.
What are the particulars? First conclusion: the object moved in a suborbital path, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to see it. There were two clouds, like smoke, that formed a barbell. It came near me and I watched it. Then we entered into the shade for two or three minutes after this happened. When we came out of the shade we didn’t see anything. But during a certain time, we and the craft were moving together.
Another curious account from the Salyut 6 allegedly happened in 1980 and was witnessed by cosmonauts Valery Ryumin and Leonid Popov. The cosmonauts at the time claimed that they had observed a “cluster of white, shining spots” take off into space from the general area of Moscow and even obtained photographic evidence of it. It seems that this report was completely buried by the Russian authorities, and would only finally come to light in 1991, when the Russian newspaper Rabochaya Tribuna published a full report on it that was then picked up by the by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), which would write:
Vladimir Alexandrov, the chief engineer at the Cosmonaut Training Center, brought a photograph of a UFO to the editorial offices of Rabochaya Tribuna. Alexandrov claimed that the flying object in the photograph, which was published in the 28 Feb. issue of RT, was the UFO reported by cosmonauts Valery Ryumin and Leonid Popov on the night from June 14 to June 15, 1980. Alexandrov claimed that the cosmonauts’ sighting had been hushed up at the time but that he was now telling RT what really happened on that night while the cosmonauts were in orbit. He said that a cluster of white, shining spots started to climb up into space from a region near Moscow and actually flew up higher than the cosmonauts’ spacecraft, Salyut-6, according to Ryumin and Popov. The UFO was observed around midnight.
Unfortunately, or perhaps conveniently for some, the photo mentioned here has somehow disappeared and is supposedly quite elusive. For their part, Russian authorities insist that this was merely a standard satellite launch, but wouldn’t two cosmonauts know that if that were true? Strange experiences like this would plague cosmonauts right up into the next phase of the Salyut program. In April of 1982, the Soviet Union launched its ambitious Salyut 7 space station as part of the Soviet Salyut Programme, which started in 1971 and had the aim of eventually sending up a total of four crewed scientific research space stations and two crewed military reconnaissance space stations. The last to be launched in the program and a precursor to the Mir space station, the Salyut 7 was the 10th space station ever put into orbit by mankind, and was designed to serve as a sort of test of a new system of modular space stations, which entailed the ability to attach new modules to expand the station or adapt it to whatever functions were required, as well as an outpost for various off-planet experiments. The Salyut 7 would end up staying in orbit for a total of 8 years and 10 months, which up until that time was the longest such a station had ever remained in continuous orbit. It is also known for a very bizarre series of bizarre, unexplained events witnessed by the crew.
In July of 1984, the Salyut 7 was on the 155th day of its mission and things were going in a routine fashion until there was a sudden transmission from cosmonauts Commander Oleg Atkov, Vladmir Solovyov, and Leonid Kizim in which they claimed that the space station had suddenly been surrounded by an oppressive, blinding orange light. The crew of three aboard the Salyut 7 all then allegedly looked out of the portals to try and see what was causing this inexplicable brilliant glow. At this point they would witness probably the last thing they had expected to see out there.
There hovering in space in front of the space station were what the crew would describe as seven enormous winged humanoid beings estimated as being around 90 feet in height and with calm, smiling faces, and it was from these bizarre entities that the ethereal light was apparently emanating. They were also claimed to exude a feeling of calm and peacefulness, and oddly the cosmonauts felt no fear during the encounter, merely wonderment. According to the witnesses, the colossal apparitions, which they described as “angels,” matched the speed of the space station, remaining in the same position for around 10 minutes before fading away. Baffled by what they had all just seen, the three cosmonauts had a heated discussion on what the beings were and what rational explanation could account for it, but they could come up with nothing. In the end, although they had all seen exactly the same thing, they chalked it up to the stresses and rigors of being in space for so long, resigning themselves to the explanation that their minds had simply been playing tricks on them.
They may have gone on forever convinced that this was some sort of mass hallucination and a bout of temporary insanity, but it would not be their last encounter with these otherworldly beings. On Day 167 of the mission, the Salyut gained an additional three cosmonauts in the form of Svetlana Savitskaya, Igor Volk and Vladimir Dzhanibekov. Not long after these new crew members boarded, the station was once again bathed in that potent, bedazzling light, and this time all six of the crew looked out of the portholes to see several of the massive angelic beings swimming through the blackness of space outside, again with their benevolent smiling faces. Considering that this time they had again all seen the same thing, it appeared that there was perhaps something more going on beyond simple hallucinations. UFOs or something else? Who knows? Whatever it was, the “Space Angels” of the Salyut 7 have remained one of the more bizarre encounters reported by cosmonauts.
After the Salyut 7 came perhaps the most well-known of the Russian space stations, the Mir. Originally launched in 1986, it was a low orbit station that was the first to actually be assembled in orbit, finally completed in 1996. It was in its day the largest artificial satellite ever attempted, and for a while would hold the record for the longest continuous human presence in space, at 3,644 days. It was meant to be the next stage in the development of space stations, and it was until it was eventually surpassed by the International Space Station (ISS). Of course, it also had its share of strangeness reported by its crew.
By some accounts the crew of the Mir saw UFOs all of the time, and one such strange sighting was reported by cosmonauts Gennadiy Manakov and Gennadiy Strekalov. According to them, on September 27, 1990, they saw an enormous, silvery sphere in orbit above the north pole area of the Earth, and in a radio interview Manakov would say of it in this transcript provided by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service:
Question: “Tell me, what are the most interesting natural phenomena you see on Earth?”
Cosmonaut: “Yesterday, for example, I saw, if one may call it that, an unidentified flying object. I call it that.”
Question: “What was it?”
Cosmonaut: “Well, I don’t know. It was a great, silvery sphere, it was iridescent… this was at 22:50…”
Question: “This was over the region of Newfoundland?”
Cosmonaut: “No. We had already passed over Newfoundland. There was an absolutely clean, clear sky. It is difficult to determine but the object was at a great altitude over the Earth, perhaps 20-30 kilometers. It was much larger than a huge ship.”
Question: “Could it have been an iceberg?”
Cosmonaut: “No. This object had a regular shape, but what it was–I do not know. Perhaps an enormous, experimental sphere or something else. I was observing it for around six or seven seconds and then it disappeared. It was just hovering over the Earth!
In March of 1993 there would be actual footage taken of a UFO lurking about the Mir space station, captured by cosmonaut Musa Manarov. He caught the footage quite by accident, as he was filming the approach of an incoming cargo flight that was meant to dock with them, and it appears to show some sort of glimmering, almost cylindrical shaped object out in space. You can see the footage here. What do you think?
There are certainly other reports from over the decades from cosmonauts aboard these space stations, but it is remarkable just how well they have managed to be covered up and in some cases completely erased. Getting any sort of UFO reports from the Cold War era or even just from Soviet or Russian files in general seems to be an almost hopeless endeavor considering the secrecy that has been thrown over it all. Are all of these accounts, as the Russian authorities would like us to believe, merely misidentifications of space junk, launches, and other atmospheric phenomena, or is there something more to it all? Wouldn’t trained cosmonauts know if what they were seeing was something mundane in nature? How do we explain such reports as we have looked at here? It is intriguing to think that these are likely just the tip of the iceberg, and no matter what one may think of it all, there certainly seems to be something strange going on up in space.