THE MYSTERY OF THE THREE SOVIET AUSTRONAUTS WHO LANDED DEAD AND SMILING
Soyuz XI is the name of the first manned space mission that was able to inhabit a space station, Salyut I. Launched on June 6, 1971, the mission returned to Earth on the 29th of that month, surpassing until then the record of permanence in space. During the return, the Soviet ship put into operation its latest automatic landing system, which reassured the engineers in the ground base, despite having lost contact with the crew during the last minutes of the maneuver. The cosmonauts Vladislav Vólkov, Gueorgui Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev were at last a step back home, but no one imagined that, at that precise moment, one of the greatest mysteries of aerospace history was born.
Even without direct contact between the base and the ship, all systems indicated a normal procedure for entering the ionosphere, and the crew landed as planned. However, once on the ground, the technicians were surprised when, upon opening the hatch, they found the three cosmonauts smiling, but without making any movement: all were dead. Thereafter, successive and multiple hypotheses arose to try to explain why the Soyuz XI crew died despite all conditions seeming normal during landing. Their bodies had no deformation at all, and far from having died in fear, their faces smiled placidly.
At first, it was speculated that the cabin would have gone through a sudden decompression; However, the autopsies revealed no internal bleeding. The tests also ruled out a thrombosis or panic disorder, which would result in cardiac arrest. So the enigmatic smiles on their faces reflected nothing but happiness.
The last exchange of words between the crew and the land base was duly recorded: “Here Yantar,” said Dobrovolski. “Everything goes perfectly on board. We are in top form. Ready for landing. I already see the station. The sun shines”. “See you soon, Yantar,” replied the control on Earth. “Soon we will see each other in our homeland.”