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The military therefore wanted maximum secrecy, insisting that the flight be reported, with few details, only after its successful completion.
Korolev, meanwhile, was reasonably confident that if the cosmonaut made it alive into space, he would probably survive the harrowing trip back to earth – although where on earth was another question.
This semi-mythical chap, a certain Colonel Vladimir Ilyushin who was actually a test pilot, had supposedly flown into space on April 7 and was severely injured during re-entry.
A variant of this rumor, which later claimed that Gagarin was a stand-in for Ilyushin, was the basis for a 2009 documentary narrated by Elliott Gould, entitled “Fallen Idol: The Yuri Gagarin Conspiracy.” Similar to the 1998 book (see my post “NPR Causes Gagarin Kerfuffle”) this documentary was based also on the bogus testimony of someone claiming to be a former KGB agent.
Said the compiler of foreign press trends: “Usually well-informed [foreign] circles in recent days have been inundated with rumors about an impending launch,” which they surmised might be true, among other things, from the lifting of censorship restrictions.
If the cosmonaut died on reentry, the whole world would know, whereas his death on liftoff would remain a military secret, safely tucked away (or so it was hoped) in a top-secret file, just like the ICBM that had exploded on the Soviet launch pad in October 1960 and killed more than 100 onlookers. There were other reasons, however, that made announcing the mission before its completion a risk worth taking.