Today in 1968, the Soviet space program decided to stray from the facts, in an effort to pretend they’d landed on the moon before their rivals in the United States.

This was in the late stages of the Space Race, though at that time nobody knew for sure how the race was going because it wasn’t always clear what the Soviets were up to.

As one Soviet journalist explained, in the early days of the space program, the country kept its extra-planetary activities secret so no other country could overtake them.

Then, they stuck with secrecy to hide the fact that they’d been overtaken.

The Soviet program had some big successes early on, from the first satellite in space, to the first humans in space, to the first spacewalks.

But the US ramped up its space program and soon it zoomed past the USSR.

By September 1968, NASA was less than a year away from landing astronauts on the moon’s surface for the first time.

The Soviets were… not that far along.

But they decided to use an upcoming mission to space to make the Americans think they were!

The mission was called Zond 5, and we’ve talked about it on this show before because this was the mission where the USSR sent two Russian tortoises and a range of other creatures around the moon.

The US knew there was some kind of launch in the works, but they didn’t know the details.

So cosmonaut Pavel Popovich decided to troll the Americans, who he knew would be listening to the radio traffic during the mission.

According to Popovich, as Zond 5 approached the moon, he grabbed the microphone and started narrating as if the craft was going to touch down… and as if he was on board.

It wasn’t like him saying mission control, I’m totally on the moon right now, and wow, it’s really moon-like up here.

It was a little more subtle than that, subtle enough that according to NASA astronaut Frank Borman, who would orbit the moon himself later that year on Apollo 8, the Americans heard all of this and freaked out.

Popovich even claims that Borman got a call from President Richard Nixon, demanding to know why the Soviets were sending radio messages from the moon!

It wasn’t long before the Americans knew this was a hoax; they saw Zond 5 as it returned to Earth and quickly realized that it was not ready to bring humans to the moon and back.

Still, the Soviets got at least one more laugh out of their ruse.

When Borman made a goodwill visit to the USSR later that year, the guy waiting for him at the airport was none other than Pavel Popovich.

Today in 2022, Susan Moore got a phone call from an animal shelter in Hayden, Idaho, saying they had her cat, Harriet.

The thing was, Harriet the cat had gone missing nine years earlier in central California – more than a thousand miles away.

Hey Harriet, how about a tell all interview?

The First Soviet Cosmonaut Team by Colin Burgess and Rex Hall (via Google Books)

Lost cat found in Idaho 9 years after wandering away from California home (Washington Post)

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