Even before the “Space Race” pushed the U.S. and the Soviet Union into high gear trying to get someone on the moon, the U.S. was already trying to get new information about the universe. NASA sent astronaut Gordon Cooper into space to gather essential insight into the workings of the galaxy. While he was orbiting the planet, he noticed something strange about the Earth’s surface. What he discovered, he kept a secret. The astronaut returns from space with priceless information that he kept from NASA for 50 years.
Gordon was born in Oklahoma and was just 7-years-old when his father, who was an Army colonel, allowed him to ride along in an airplane. During their flight, he let Gordon take the controls briefly. It was this flight that sparked Gordon’s fascination with flying. Before Gordon turned 32, Gordon had already served in the Marines, the Air Force, as as a test pilot on Edwards Air Force Base. It was there that he suggested that changes and improvements be made to the F-106B Delta Dart jet fighter.
An Incredible Offer
In 1959, Gordon received an incredible offer. He was asked to go to Washington, D.C., where he would be a potential candidate for the Mercury Project. The goal of the project was to put a man into Earth’s orbit and then return safely. NASA was sure that he was the perfect candidate. He was placed on a shortlist of 109 candidates, and NASA selected Gordon was one of the seven men for the program. In May 1963, he conducted the first mission on the Faith 7. The spacecraft was so small that only someone under 5-feet, 11-inches tall would fit in the craft.
Gordon was excited to have the opportunity to go into space. His instructions were simple. He would go into space alone, survive, and study the zero-gravity effects on the human body. This was his mission as far as the public was concerned. Many believe that NASA had a few other instructions for the young astronaut that weren’t disclosed to the public. Since the entire mission was classified, we only know what NASA and the government wanted us to know. Any other orders given to Gordon were unknown at the time.
A Success and Near Danger
The project was a success. From May 15th to the 16th, for just about 34-hours, Gordon orbited the Earth. He was the first astronaut to ever sleep in space. Just when Gordon and NASA believed that the mission was a huge success, something happened. While the Faith 7 was heading back to Earth, the automatic pilot system malfunctioned. Fortunately, Gordon was a highly experienced pilot, so he didn’t panic. He took over the control and maneuvered the spacecraft into a perfect landing on an aircraft carrier that was waiting. He turned what could have been a deadly situation and a PR nightmare for NASA into a win.
While the public didn’t know it at the time, it was also Gordon’s mission to take photos. When speaking to ground control, he said, “Man, all I do is take pictures, pictures, pictures. I’m up to 5,245 now.” NASA didn’t just want breathtaking images of our planet. His camera was equipped to detect magnetic aberrations along the Earth’s surface. This made it possible for him to secretly search for Soviet nuclear bases or submarines off the coast of the United States. While taking the photos, he uncovered some pretty interesting things. He was searching for secret nuclear bases when he found hundreds of anomalies near the Caribbean. He was charting these things while in the spacecraft but wasn’t sure what they were. He knew that they weren’t large enough to be nuclear sites, but what were they?
When Gordon returned home, he never mentioned any of the anomalies to NASA. He kept them a secret from NASA and the Department of Defense, but nobody knows why. He decided that he would embark on his own personal mission to figure out what these anomalies were.
When Gordon was safely back on Earth, he started to investigate what he discovered. He noticed that all of the anomalies that he found were bunched around old traffic routes that had been highly trafficked by Spanish ships. He was sure that this wasn’t a coincidence. He started to wonder if the anomalies were related to shipwrecks. Gordon began researching centuries-old shipwrecks to determine if they really were shipwrecks. He was sure that he had charted them from space.
Back In Space
Gordon investigated what he found when he could, but he was very busy. He continued working or NASA, which included a mission on the Gemini 5, where he spent 190 hours in space. He never had much time to explore what he found while aboard the Faith 7, and as he got older, he realized that his time was running out.
When Gordon got older, she developed Parkinson’s disease. His failing health and tremors made it impossible for Gordon to do any research. He didn’t want his secret to die with him, so he reached out to his friend, Darrell Miklos. Darrell was an explorer who had experience hunting for rocket ship debris. Gordon knew that Darrell would be more than willing to investigate on Gordon’s behalf. When Gordon died in 2004, he was at peace because the map that he made in space was safe in Darrell’s possession. Darrell was dedicated to respecting his friend’s last wish, and he was ready to investigate what Gordon had seen in space decades earlier.
Darrell completely believed Gordon, and he didn’t need proof to begin an investigation. He was sure that Gordon was telling the truth. The Discovery Channel didn’t need any proof either. On just Darrell’s word, they offered to document the investigation called, Cooper’s Treasure in 2017. Darrell was okay with the name of the show because it was his good friend who created the map in the first place. He was just taking over where Gordon left off.
The First Site
When Darrell and his team began, they traveled to the first spot on Gordon’s map to find evidence of a shipwreck. Using deep-sea diving gear, they worked hard to survey the ocean floor. They were hoping to find signs of a shipwreck, and they uncovered a massive anchor. The hauled the anchor onto their ship and later realized that the anchor was from the era of Christopher Columbus. This was a very valuable artifact from the past.
By the middle of 2017, Darrell and his crew had already searched five spots on Gordon’s map. In all five sites, they found evidence of shipwrecks. Darrell was thrilled, but there was still a lot of work to be done. The map that Gordon gave Darrell before he died contained hundreds of points for him to explore. He planned to visit every single location and says that he hears Gordon’s voice in his head during every mission. He told Newsweek Magazine that he could almost hear Gordon saying, “You’re on the right trail.” He knows that there is more lying on the seafloor that is just waiting to be found.
While Gordon did keep the anomalies in the Caribbean, a secret, the information that he did relay to NASA was essential. Thanks to what he learned about the long-term effects of gravity, the United States was in a head-to-head battle with the Soviet Union in the “Space Race.”
The Soviet Union’s Goal
The Soviet Union wanted to beat the United States in the “Space Race,” so that they could lift the spirits of their citizens. They wanted to be known as the world’s number one, “superpower,” and they were sure that if they got to the moon first, that they would earn this title. Thanks to Gordon and his pioneering, the United States got closer in the race.
After Gordon’s successful mission, the Soviet Union had to do something. In 1971, they launched a space station called Salyut 1 into orbit. They were sure that this would help them beat the U.S. Unfortunately, it failed to dock with the Soyuz 10, and the USSR had egg on their faces. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and Sputkink 2, both satellites into space, and after putting the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, they were sure that they were ahead in the race. When the United States had two men walking on the moon in 1969, the Soviet Union realized that they were very far behind. This was when they pushed to prove that their space station was fully operational. Unfortunately, it was a disaster from the beginning.
Four days before the Soyuz 11 was scheduled to launch, the medics discovered that Valeri Kunbasov, a member of the crew, was showing signs of tuberculosis. They knew that they could never send a man with these symptoms into space, so they took him off the mission, and they scrapped the whole mission. They decided to go with a completely new crew. The men chosen should have turned down the job.
The commander on the mission was 43-year-old Georgi Dorovolsky, and Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev accompanied him. They were a backup crew, but each was an experienced cosmonaut. Although the three men were highly-trained, they had only been training for four months when it was time to launch. The Soviets were in such a hurry to beat the United States, that they sent the men up to space, believing that they were ready.
When the Soyuz 11 took off, there were no problems. They managed to arrive at the Salyut 1 space station with its crew intact. The tricky part would be when the cosmonauts had to dock the ship and then get onto the space station. They managed to dock the spacecraft in the space station, and when they stepped aboard, they encountered a significant problem. Something on the space station smelled terrible as if it were on fire. The crew retreated back to the Soyuz 11 for 24-hours, then they made the necessary repairs to the station’s ventilation system. They were sure that once they did that, the space station would be habitable.
On the Space Station
Now that the crew was safely on the Salyut 1, it was time to go to work. It was the cosmonauts’ mission to study the effects of zero-gravity of humans. Part of their research required them to run on a treadmill aboard the space station. The Soviet Union wanted its citizens to see how good they were doing, so Dobrovolsky and he crew starred in progress reports that would be televised in the USSR and countries all over the world. It would be 11 days later that another issue arose.
While the crew was aboard the Soyuz 11, they smelled something bad again, and this time, there was smoke. The crew didn’t panic, and they quickly found the source of the smoke. It was a malfunctioning part, so they worked to fix the problem. In total, the crew spent 23 days aboard the Salyut 1. They beat the previous record for the time in orbit by five days. After breaking the record, and performing 141 experiments, the crew was ready to return home. After gathering their research, notes, and recordings, the crew boarded the Soyuz 11. They were all in good health and prepared to enter the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s when they had trouble.
The crew orbited the Earth three times before making their descent. Mission control let them know that they would see them soon on Earth. The commander told mission control that he would see them soon. The crew initiated the landing procedure correctly. The ship’s rockets blasted for the correct length of time, and the capsule successfully separated from the hull. The parachute deployed, and all appeared to be going according to plan. When mission control tried to radio the crew, they got no answer.
Since they couldn’t get them on the radio, a recovery unit was sent to where the re-entry capsule landed in remote Kazakhstan. The crew was told not to exit the spacecraft without assistance because they didn’t know what 23 days in space would have done to their bodies. The Soviets made sure to send medics to treat the crew if necessary. When the recovery crew got to the site, the reentry capsule was sealed and seemed fine. When they knocked on the exit hatch, the crew didn’t respond. When they got to the crew, they all laid motionless with dark-blue patches on their faces and blood coming from their noses and ears. After trying CPR to revive the men, they gave up. All three men were dead.
Experts discovered that as the re-entry capsule fell to Earth, an equalization valve regulating air pressure malfunctioned. The capsule opened too early, which caused the pressure in the capsule to match that of the pressure in space. When the pod was 104-miles from the ground, it became a vacuum. The pressure caused the blood vessels in their brains to hemorrhage, and in seconds, they were all knocked out. Minutes later, they were dead. According to Soviet officials, their deaths occurred in space.
Each of the men were called heroes and awarded Soviet Union gold stars. They were heroes, and their deaths taught the space programs a lesson. If the three men were wearing the appropriate gear, they would have survived. This was when the protocol was changed for all space stations, and it changed space travel forever.