At the beginning of 60s nothing more symbolized the USSR's
status as a world leader than the beginning of the space age.
Between 1957 and 1965 the Soviet Union set one space record
after another: the first satellite in orbit; sending space
probes to the moon; putting the first man and the first woman
in space; keeping a manned spacecraft in orbit for as long
as five days; and the first space walk.
Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968), flew into orbit aboard the Soviet
spacecraft Vostok I on 12 April 1961, becoming the first man
in space. He orbited the Earth once (his capsule was controlled
from the ground) before returning for a safe landing in the
Soviet Union roughly 90 minutes later.
was a confident, action-oriented young man, neither profound
nor convoluted in his thinking, reliable and sturdy in his response
to the challenge of the Vostok spacecraft. His image benefits
from its eternal youth, since his early death a few years later
preserved his fame against growing old. Such a man was needed
to step across the frontier where unknown physical and psychological
dangers lay in wait.
"It seems to me now that all my
life is a one beautiful moment. All that I have been through,
all that has been done was for this minute's sake,"
- Yuri Gagarin.
1961 flight made him an international hero; While on board,
received a word that he had been promoted to the rank of major.
He was also awarded the Order of Lenin and made a deputy of
the Soviet parliament, the Supreme Soviet. The flight was also
considered a political victory for the Soviet Union; the United
States didn't put a man into space until Alan Shepard's sub-orbital
flight on 5 May 1961.
Gagarin was preceded into space by a Soviet dog, Laika.
was born in the Smolensk region of the former USSR. His family
was displaced during World War II and moved to the town of Gzhatsk
in the northeastern part of Smolensk. In 1949 Gagarin began
his higher education at a manufacturing trade school in Lyubertsy,
a town outside of Moscow. In 1951 he trained as a metalworker
at the industrial technical school in Saratov, which is southeast
of Moscow. While he was in Saratov, he joined a flying club
and learned to fly airplanes. His instructor recommended him
to the air force, and Gagarin began attending the Soviet Air
Force cadet training school at Chkalov (now Orenburg) in Russia
in 1955. He graduated from the academy with high distinction
in 1957, shortly after the launch of Sputnik 1.
applied for the six-week cosmonaut screening process in 1960
with just 230 hours of flying experience. He and 19 others
were selected to become cosmonauts. Of these 20 men, 12 eventually
completed space flights. Gagarin and fellow cosmonaut Gherman
Titov, front-runners in their class, were both contenders
for the Vostok 1 flight.
Gagarin was chosen to fly aboard Vostok 1 just four
days before the launch date. There was at least one delay
in the countdown, due to a faulty valve. At 9:07 am, Vostok
1, using the radio name CEDAR, lifted off for its 108-minute
was exposed to about six times the normal force of gravity on
the earth during the launch phase and about eight times the
normal force of gravity during the re-entry.
During his one orbit around the earth, he ate and drank
(no one had ever done this in weightlessness before), monitored
the capsules systems, and evaluated his ability to observe
features on the earth (he had no camera). The capsules
control panels were locked, since everything was either automated
or controlled from the ground, but Gagarin had the code to unlock
the controls in a sealed envelope in case there was an emergency.
Vostok 1 landed in a field near Saratov, observed only by cows
and a few peasants. Information that emerged in the late 1980s
about the Soviet space program suggests that Gagarin actually
bailed out of Vostok 1 at an altitude of about 6 km (about 4
mi) and descended under a parachute separately from the capsule.
his famous flight he remained in the cosmonaut corps. He
died at the age of 34 on a routine jet proficiency flight in
He had a wife, Valentina Gagarin, and two daughters,
Elena and Galya. On April 12, 2001, Gagarin's daughter Elena,
was appointed general director of the Moscow Kremlin
ashes were interred in the Kremlin wall. He and his historical
flight are remembered officially in many ways. A titanium obelisk,
which reaches a height of 40 m (120 ft), was erected at the
Vostok 1 landing site. The town of Gzhatsk was renamed Gagarin.
A crater on the far side of the moon is named for Gagarin. Also,
the main center for cosmonaut training at Star City, Russia,
is called the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
Gagarin poster, 1964.
Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space, orbiting
the earth 48 times in Vostok VI in 1963.
The Soviets were looking for another "first"
at which to beat the United States. Overseen by the first person
in space, Yuri Gagarin, the selection process began mid-1961.
Since there weren't many female pilots, women parachutists made
an excellent field to choose from. Valentina Tereshkova, three
other women parachutists, and a female pilot were selected to
train as cosmonauts in 1962.
per the paranoia of the time, the entire program was shrouded
in secrecy. When she left for training, Tereshkova reportedly
told her mother she was going to a training camp for an elite
skydiving team. It wasn't until the flight was announced on
the radio that her mother learned the truth. Valentina Tereshkova
was the only one of the group to go into space.
spent three days aloft before returning safely to earth. The
flight made Tereshkova a national hero and she was awarded the
high honor of the Order of Lenin. Her flight was considered
a scientific coup for the Soviet Union, which also had the first
man (Yuri Gagarin) and the first dog (Laika) in space. She spent
more time in orbit than all the U.S. Mercury astronauts combined.Tereshkova,
has said she sometimes felt unwell during her flight but braved
sickness, delivering vigorous reports to Mission Control and
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
|Tereshkova with husband
Nikolaev, 1965. Star city.
Rumors that Valentina Tereshkova's marriage to fellow cosmonaut
Andrian Nikolayev in November 1963 was just for propaganda purposes
have never been proven. Nikolayev had orbited the earth 64 times
in 1962 in the Vostok III. They had a daughter, Elena, who was
born the following year, the first child of parents that had
both been in space. Elena was carefully studied by doctors fearful
of her parents' space exposure, but no ill effects were found.
The couple later divorced.
summarized her views on women and science in her 1970 "Women
in Space" article in the American journal Impact of Science
on Society: "I believe a woman
should always remain a woman and nothing feminine should be
alien to her. At the same time I strongly feel that no work
done by a woman in the field of science or culture or whatever,
however vigourous or demanding, can enter into conflict with
her ancient 'wonderful mission' to love, to be loved
and with her craving for the bliss of motherhood. On
the contrary, these two aspects of her life can complement
each other perfectly."
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist
Party Valentina lost her standing. Little has been heard of
her in recent years. She is presumably retired in Moscow.
More about Tereshkova.