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“The government report didn’t say where Gagarin was launched from and what rocket he was riding, and it also concealed details of his return,” Chertok said. “The secrecy was excessive.”

While Gagarin’s smiling face made him a poster boy for the communist world, scientists behind the mission remained anonymous, with even their names being a top state secret. To the scientists’ dismay, Soviet authorities made people with no relation to the space program claim public credit for Gagarin’s mission.

“It was quite painful for us to see that,” Chertok said.

A similar veil of secrecy surrounded Gagarin’s death in a two-seater training jet crash on March 27, 1968, spurring conspiracy theories about the KGB staging it to punish him for his alleged opposition to the Communist regime.

An official panel has concluded that Gagarin’s plane crashed after making a sharp maneuver to dodge an air balloon or avoid thick clouds, but many cosmonauts and technical experts have remained skeptical of the verdict.

Cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov, who closely knew Gagarin and was to follow Gagarin on a training flight on the day of his death, told the AP that the most likely reason for the crash was another military jet flying too close by at high speed.

A turbulence or a shock wave from that plane crossing the sound barrier could have shattered Gagarin’s plane cockpit and knocked him and his crewmate unconscious as their MiG-15 fell into a steep dive and slammed into a forest.

The official probe didn’t seriously investigate that possible version of events, most likely because air force officials weren’t interested in finding any truth that could have cost them their jobs, Shatalov said.