Little Bits of History

The Columbus of the Cosmos

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 12, 2012

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin

April 12, 1961: Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin becomes the first person to enter outer space. The USSR had been the first to launch a successful space probe with Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957. They followed the launch with several more unmanned flights. The US, playing catch-up, also sent unmanned rockets into outer space. Vostok 1 was launched at 06:07 UTC and stayed aloft for 1 hour and 48 minutes. The rocket reached an apogee of 203 miles and made one orbit of the planet.

Gagarin was born March 9, 1934 in what is today Smolensk Oblast, Russia. His parents worked on the collective farm. During World War II, his two older siblings were taken by the Nazis to work as slave laborers. Yuri was interested in space as a child and one of his teachers had been in the Soviet Air Force. He studied hard and managed to get selected for flight training in 1955 at Orenburg Pilot’s School. He attained greater ranks within the Air Force until he and 19 others were selected to train as early cosmonauts.

In 1960 Gagarin entered the Soviet space program where he was trained both physically and psychologically for the rigors of early space flight. He stood only 5 feet 2 inches tall, making his size an asset for the small space included for the pilot of the Vostok rocket. The two choices for the first trip were Gagarin and Gherman Titov, another diminutive man. Gagarin was selected. Riding into the sky in the Vostok 3KA-2 rocket, the first human reached outer space.

The entire trip was run with automated systems. No one knew how a human would react to the conditions of space so all instruments were locked against interference from the pilot. The rocket orbited the globe once, taking 108 minutes to complete the circuit. Vostok’s return to Earth was also on land. It was not known if a cosmonaut would survive such a landing. Therefore, Gagarin ejected from the craft while 23,000 feet above ground. He then parachuted to Earth, the first human to have made such a journey. FAI, the international watchdog for space flights, had a rule in 1961 stating a pilot must land with the spaceship to be considered “official” for record books. The Soviet authorities lied about both the launch and the landing in order to maintain secrecy.

Dear friends, known and unknown to me, my dear compatriots and all people of the world! Within minutes from now, a mighty Soviet rocket will boost my ship into the vastness of outer space. What I want to tell you is this. My whole life is now before me as a single breathtaking moment. I feel I can muster up my strength for successfully carrying out what is expected of me. – Yuri Gagarin, minutes before liftoff

Poyekhali! (Off we go!). – Yuri Gagarin at liftoff

The Earth is blue. How wonderful. It is amazing. – Yuri Gagarin during his orbit

It was a huge ball, about two or three meters high. It fell, then it bounced and then it fell again. There was a huge hole where it hit the first time. – two schoolgirls who witnesses the Vostok 1 landing.

Also on this day:

Jerry Did Good – In 1996 Yahoo! goes public.
Polio Vaccine – In 1955, Jonas Salk’s vaccine was approved.
Union Jack – In 1606, Great Britain adopted a new flag.

3 Responses

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on April 12, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Within minutes of receiving word that their spacecraft had landed safely Nikita Khrushchev called me to tell me- now who was doing the lying? He was giggling like a young school girl talking with her girlfriends about a boy, saying that bringing a human back to Earth was better than the United States leaving a dog in space(Kennedy had been boasting about that flight without mentioning that the dog had perished).

  2. Bobby Dias said, on April 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Re: “Off we go!” Reminds me about two people in 1967, 2 US Navy helicopter pilots, who gave me many rides in and around south-east asia. Married, names of Jim and Judy, when they were to start taking off, they touched their helmets and said “Up, up and away” every time.

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