For Children

Jai Glazer

Space Race

7th & 8th Grade Prose Winner

"I am sure of this: at noon on May 15 [1960] a group of Red Army cadets were unanimously positive that the rocket was manned. That pravda [truth] did not change until later that afternoon." – Robert Heinlein

March 5, 1953.

It was a spring day in Moscow. It was one of the warmer days Russia would experience that season. Not that Russia was ever warm in March. Moscow still had the uniquely biting, frigid wind that seems to be only found in this country.

Everyone was outside. Kids were playing, taking advantage of the lukewarm temperature they so rarely experienced. Little did everyone know that they were at the end of an era.

Josef Stalin lay inside the Kremlin. With his last ounce of strength, he scribbled out a letter, addressed it, and died. Although one era had just ended, by writing this letter Stalin had brought humanity to the dawn of a new one.

March 28, 1958.

A new leader had taken power. Although two leaders had already presided since Stalin, neither had received this letter. Stalin had addressed it to Nikita Khrushchev, anticipating that he would be Premier one day. Khrushchev now sat with the letter in his
hands and began to read.

Dear Nikita,

The man who gave you this letter had instructions to burn it, in case you died or never became Premier. Since you are reading it, the instruction is no longer necessary. I knew you had the potential to gain power and I feel you will be a good leader of the revolution. But there is one thing you must know. We have begun developing our manned space program. We call it Vostok. Its first goal is to send a man to space by 1960. Its second goal is to send a man to the moon. Whenever you read this and whatever has happened since its writing, Nikita—don’t let Vostok fail.

Josef

Khrushchev sat back, amazed and terrified at the same time.

May 16, 1960

The launch had failed again. This time the Vostok ship had made it out of the atmosphere, but then floated off into deep space. The cosmonaut in the ship would die and never be remembered for the attempt. Khrushchev wondered about his parents. Did he have children? The Soviet Premier could not know that several more launches would fail in the coming year and kill several more cosmonauts. And the Soviet Union could not be seen to fail. With each disaster, the close circle of knowledge drew tighter, the looselipped were sent to Siberia, and the race to space went on.

April 11, 1961

One day before Gagarin’s attempt at earth orbit. Nikita Khrushchev sat in his office, worrying constantly. The cosmonauts were carefully kept from each other, but Khrushchev could not send a man into the abyss without knowing the truth. So each one learned the truth before his actual launch. Today was Gagarin’s turn to hear of the lost comrades and how they had died.

April 12, 1961

As his rocket blasted into the air, Yuri Gagarin swore mightily, again. He had not signed up to die. Even if he succeeded in his mission, Khrushchev had threatened him with a hideous end, if he ever told anyone about the other cosmonauts. Gagarin was experiencing one of the most beautiful and eye opening things that anyone could ever do, but he could only think about other men who had died trying to serve the Soviet Union and become national heroes.

April 13, 1961

The news was out. Citizens of the world had heard that Yuri Gagarin had become the first man to enter space. Khrushchev and Gagarin sat in the same chairs for the second time in three days. But despite the familiarity, one crucial factor had changed: the power balance in the room. This time, Gagarin could unveil to the world that Russia had sent three other cosmonauts into space to die and nearly killed a fourth. Gagarin had the power now.

July 26, 1961

Yuri Gagarin’s Diary
I have been showered in fame for three months. I’ve run around the world giving speeches, meeting world leaders and confiding in absolutely no one about those who came before me in the Vostok program. This has been the hardest part, the part in which I was afraid I would fail.

I met Fidel Castro this week. Castro is a fellow revolutionary for our Soviet Union, and a dear friend to our leader Khrushchev. I was tired, and tired of our charade. Backstage, waiting for Castro to introduce me, I was on the brink of cracking. But then I got back into my role. As many times before, I was introduced to the crowd, shook hands with the world leader and smiled. I posed for pictures with the crowd cheering below me. As usual, I then sat down with the world leader, had a bite to eat and accepted endless congratulations. For my handlers, watching me must have been like watching an automaton.

At the reception, I did the usual. I danced, I laughed and I talked to the upper echelons of society and politics. But there was one thing I did in Cuba that I did nowhere else. Something I dearly regret. During the festivities, I found that I have a taste for Cuban rum. After an hour, I was truly drunk. Unfortunately, I was about to have a private chat with Castro. And I told him.

Understandably, he was astonished. “Why has this been such a secret? Why has Khrushchev not told anyone?” he asked. Quickly, his magnetic smiles and charisma were combined with an almost evil curiosity. Some (not wrongly) would call what I did treason, but Castro made me feel as if I were doing a great service to the world. After all, Castro said, the world needed to know what the Soviet Union had done.

July 27, 1961

(Phone call between Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro)

Khrushchev: Fidel! To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?

Castro: I had a most interesting conversation with Comrade Gagarin last evening! It seems that he has a weakness for Cuban rum. And he mentioned to me that he was not the first cosmonaut!

Khrushchev (faintly): Oh.

Khrushchev’s fears, since the first failed launch two years earlier, washed over him. The Soviet Union would be mocked by the rest of the world, while the Russian people would rise up and look for a scapegoat. Khrushchev was the ideal target. This secret Gagarin had revealed to Castro would undoubtedly cost Khrushchev and Gagarin their lives. His stunned silence gave Castro the answer he needed and desperately hoped for.

Castro: I could release this information publicly and shame your country. But we share a common enemy. So I am willing to keep this secret between us. However, to repay my generosity, I need something from you . . .

Khrushchev hung up the phone and cried.

October 31, 1962

Khrushchev held up his end of the deal, but Kennedy spoiled Castro’s plan. The Cuban Missile Crisis was over. The debt had been repaid, but Khrushchev still couldn’t kill Gagarin. Like all blackmailers, Castro would never let go of the leverage of the lost cosmonauts.

Yuri Gagarin’s Diary
March 27, 1968

Ever since I woke up with my Cuban hangover, I have been ashamed. Ashamed of what I did to my country, ashamed that I gave away a national secret with which I was supremely entrusted. Still, I know that my lost comrades deserved honor.

Today is a new phase in my misery. Brezhnev has decided that I must disappear for good. I am scheduled to go on a test flight that will crash. I will receive a Soviet hero’s burial and then be transported in secret to Cuba to live out the rest of my days. My life is forever in Castro’s hands.

January 5, 2017

I am too tired and too old to escape and tell my story. The Kremlin has been waiting for Fidel Castro to die for almost 40 years, and they never forget. Now that he is dead, they will come for me. Whoever finds this, I hope, can honor the lives of the lost cosmonauts. I hope people will know their story. In time, the Russians may even confirm it. Dear Reader, please tell people the truth. I will not be around to do so.