Gamble For Glory

Then, in October 1964, they pulled off what was regarded at the time as a truly awesome feat that completely pulled the rug from under the feet of the Americans. By all measures it was an audacious move, but one that history now reflects as being filled with the most appalling and unnecessary hazards.

The Vostok spacecraft, which had emerged from Chief Designer Sergey Kor-olyov's OKB-1 design bureau, had proved itself many times over to be a reliable and functional vehicle. In April 1961, Lieutenant Yuri Gagarin (promoted to major during his flight) was the first person to fly aboard one, and in doing so became the world's first space traveller, on a single-orbit, 108-minute flight.

Success followed success when cosmonaut Gherman Titov flew Vostok 2 into orbit in August 1962, his mission setting a new record of more than a day in space. Then followed the concurrent flights of Vostok 3 and 4 in August 1962, each carrying a single crewman who would become jointly known as the Heavenly Twins - Andrian Nikolayev and Pavel Popovich. In June 1963, Valery Bykovsky flew into orbit aboard Vostok 5, and was followed a day after by the world's first spacewoman, Valentina Tereshkova, aboard Vostok 6.

While the American manned space programme toiled along at a carefully measured, but nevertheless spirited pace, the Soviets had begun to emerge in the eyes of most people as likely winners in the race to put the first man on the Moon. To a grudgingly admiring world, they seemed almost invincible, and certainly appeared superior in spacecraft and rocket technology.

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