A novel...from 1969


The Shadow knows what lurks in the hearts of men
May 13, 2008
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Thought I would post about this book I had just read.

Its title is "Autopsy for a Cosmonaut" by Jacob Hay and John M. Keshishian, MD. Published by Little, Brown and Company, NYC. Published in Feb. 1969.

It's basically a story about a Soviet manned space shot that ended badly for its passengers, and the US response, which was to send up an extra manned Gemini capsule ("12-A") to rendezvous with the Soviet spacecraft to find out what happened. The actual purpose of this added Gemini mission was kept under wraps, and the public statement was it was to be a form of an extended biomedical mission. It was feared that if the Russians found out what the plan was, they would attempt to stop the mission, or start a war over it, as this US mission was going to happen without the USSR's cooperation.

The one astronaut to fly on this mission was also clandestine, and his actual name was subsumed under a pseudonym. Allegedly the US astronaut corps didn't have any top flight medical people who had conducted autopsies and knew how to expertly take take tissue biopsies of human beings.

The Soviet spacecraft apparently was a two-man Voskhod capsule, and the authors describe it as "Victorian" in design. (Of course, this was novel was written before the USSR actually released photos of an actual Voskhod, which was, if memory serves, sometime in the early 1980s.) The Gemini craft flew around the Voskhod at close range, and took a series of photos of its exterior.

The Gemini was modified to have an extendable pole with a styrofoam ball on its end (to prevent electrical discharge from the Soviet craft to the US one), and one US astronaut conducted a spacewalk while tethered to a ring that slid down this pole until he got to the Soviet spacecraft.

The astronaut managed to remove the exterior hatch, then open the interior one. Black-and-white and color photographs were taken of everything inside the Voskhod. A biopsy series was done on the one cosmonaut that was nearest the hatch, and five samples were taken including from the heart, lung and brain (through the eye socket and bone above the eye). The logbooks of both cosmonauts, as well as personal photo mementos that the cosmonauts had taped to their control panel were also removed and taken back to the Gemini capsule.

The Voskhod carried a new-fangled nuclear-powered battery system, which allowed the telemetry to keep being broadcast, but the cosmonauts died of carbon monoxide asphyxiation, which was why there were no communications being intercepted.

While the spacewalk was in progress, the Soviets launched a sudden space shot from Baikonur, which truncated the actual Gemini plan to be in orbit for a while. The Gemini then employed an emergency reentry, and came down off the coast of Australia. A US submarine soon surfaced, and the two American astronauts were rescued and got on board the US sub, which then left the area. The Gemini capsule was allowed to sink.

The one astronaut who had a been using a pseudonym was then announced to have died in a boating accident a month later, although in reality he was returned to his original life, that being a medical pathologist and research fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The character's name is Dr. Sam Stonebreaker.

Overall, the writing was pedestrian, and the vast majority of the book covers the secret astronaut's selection (all done hush-hush), and his crash training course. The actual space mission takes up a very slender number of pages near the end of the book.

Here is an excerpt from the blurb off the book cover (hard copy version):


Because he possesses the needed skills and is both available and reliable, Sam has been selected to participate in an urgent top secret mission for the government. A manned Russian spaceship being routinely monitored by NASA has stopped sending signals. The Pentagon thinks that the crew is dead. Moreover, there is a chance that the ship is powered by a revolutionary use of nuclear energy. Before the ship's orbit decays and it burns up re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, it must be boarded and examined. Most particularly an autopsy must be made on the pilot. To prepare for this harrowing assignment Sam must undertaken a grueling crash training program.


What caught my eye was the cover of the paperback version of the book. Check this out.


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    book cover 2.jpg
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ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Jan 8, 2006
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I've got this book somewhere in my storage. As I remember, it was a pretty good read.


The Anti-Proxmire
Sep 24, 2011
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Hello Jim from a fellow Alabamian! Is Reed books in business still? Also, C-SPAN had an interview with author Gary Hoover, a kindly old gentleman who bought a 32 room disused clinic and filled each room with its own subject-most not on the web. I wonder if I can get him to adopt me... :)