50 years ago today, Yuri Gagarin went into space

Browse By


50 years ago today, the cosmonaut painted on my wall made his first orbit.

Why the world still remembers its first spaceman

Every nation has its own glorious anniversaries to celebrate, but few are shared by the whole world. The anniversary of manned spaceflight, April 12, understandably is a red-letter day in Russia, homeland of the world’s first space traveler, but it is a logical candidate for worldwide celebration as well.
Centuries from now, it may be one of only a few Earth-born anniversaries to be celebrated by off-world humanity. In anticipation of such a multiplanetary future for humanity, forward-looking people all over our present single planet should pause to consider what April 12, 1961, gave to Earth.

To mark the occasion, the astronauts onboard the International Space Station have filmed a new view of what Yuri would have seen as he travelled around the planet.

“Weaving these new views together with historic voice recordings from Yuri’s flight and an original score by composer Philip Sheppard, we have created a spellbinding film to share with people around the World on this historic anniversary.”

Never forgot that “cosmonauts” is a non-gendered word, Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space, aboard Vostok 6, June 16, 1963

In June 1963, the whole world heard about the Russian “Chaika” (Seagull), Valentina Tereshkova’s call sign.
The first woman in space, ”Cinderella of the Stars” was born into a peasant family and worked at a textile factory after finishing evening school.
While working and earning an education at a technical school by correspondence, Valentina dreamed of the heavens. She learned how to skydive at a local aero-club, completing 163 jumps.
“There were only five women in our group, but the workload was more than the men’s,” Tereshkova explains, saying the training was extremely rough at that time. “But each of us was obsessed with the crazy idea of completing the training with brilliant results and of making a spaceflight.
In 2000, Valentina Tereshkova was named “Greatest Woman Achiever of the Century” by the British Women of the Year Association.

The Yuri portrait that I painted on my wall in April 2002 to celebrate Yuri

See also twenty myths about Gagarins spaceflight.

1. Vostok means “east” in Russian and was picked to signify dominance over the West.
Maybe, but more likely the name of Gagarin’s spacecraft was meant to express the poetic sense of the Russian root words signifying “sunrise”— vos (“upward”) plus tok (“flow”)—to elicit a sense of humanity rising into space. It’s a beautiful name.
7. Gagarin was preceded in space by a number of earlier cosmonauts, who were all killed.
Moscow kept its program so secret, and issued so many clumsy lies about it, that almost anything was possible, especially if it eased the bruised egos of Americans tired of getting beaten in the space race. But in hindsight, not a single “secret cosmonaut” was killed in flight—although several were expelled for misbehavior, and their faces were airbrushed out of group pictures.
13. Two Italian brothers recorded Gagarin’s space transmissions and transmissions from other cosmonauts who vanished.
The Judica-Cordiglia brothers, who are still alive and promoting their claims, became famous in the 1960s as private space sleuths. In hindsight, none of their claims were ever verified by other radio listeners, and historians dismiss them as mistaken amateurs.
14. Gagarin reported he “didn’t see God.”
Gagarin’s friend and fellow cosmonaut Aleksey Leonov recently disclosed that this phrase was conjured up by a Soviet propaganda team and that Gagarin never said it. According to Leonov, Gagarin had a personal and profound respect for religion. He had his daughters baptized and actually publicly supported a private campaign to raise funds for rebuilding the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which Stalin had destroyed.
15. Gagarin was nearly killed during reentry, when his capsule failed to fully unhook from the propulsion module.
The failure of the spherical crew module to cleanly separate from the equipment module just prior to hitting the atmosphere was kept secret for 40 years. The two units twirled around each other connected by cables for a minute, before aerodynamic forces snapped the connection. Such separation failures were encountered in later years as well, but each time, frictional heating and tumbling motions destroyed the connecting structure before the crew cabin hull was harmed—so it wasn’t as “nearly fatal” as it first appeared.
16. Gagarin’s flight fell short of one complete pass around Earth and thus was never officially “in orbit.”
Blasting off from east of the Aral Sea and landing just east of the Volga River, the Vostok ’s flight path doesn’t seem to make a full circuit. But that’s because Earth was rotating eastward during the roughly 1.5-hour mission. In inertial space, the only frame of reference that matters in spaceflight, the Vostok completed 360 degrees and then some.
17. Gagarin didn’t deserve his flight record because he didn’t land inside his capsule.
Aviation records were recognized only if the pilot didn’t crash his vehicle. Gagarin’s parachute landing did technically violate this, and the Soviets did decide to lie about it to avoid arguments. Once it was clear that parachute descent was part of the nominal landing profile, the rules were modified to permit it.

I still believe in the lost cosmonauts, in a ‘unexplained mysteries’ sort of way. It’s a frightening thought that Yuri could be the first man in space who lived to tell the tale. Friday night fright movies should be made on the idea.

Read previous post:
Adland pranks Starbucks, and they prank me right back.

...."Ok, you are hereby dubbed to the copyqueen of this project while I go sort something green to wear." were...

Close