Scientists as Astronauts

"There is of course a certain risk to every space flight, specifically to the risky test flights of new craft. Mankind has had to pay dearly, not infrequently losing its best sons, for many of the achievements which have contributed to progress. Movement along the path ofprogress is unstoppable. Others will carry on the relay race of scientific success and go on further, true to the memories of their comrades." Yuri Gagarin1

On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to fly into space. A pilot, but not a test pilot, he voiced eloquent impressions of the view of Earth from space and though he never flew in space again (tragically being killed in an aircraft accident in 1968 during qualification to fly a new space mission), he was supportive of the cosmonaut profession. To him, this included the scientists and other specialists as well as the pilots. Though his own mission was essentially a "short" test flight into space, Gagarin recognised the importance that a space platform crewed by specialists would have in expanding our understanding of the cosmos. The early flights were accomplished by test pilots, but Gagarin knew that the era of scientists on space stations would come in time:

"We shall build a large orbital space station, a scientific research station, in order to be able to study outer space. It will make it possible for us to do different kinds of research, to study outer space, and to carry out experiments which we cannot do on Earth because certain conditions can only be achieved in space."2

After his flight, Gagarin became more interested in space research and science and often stated that "further space research would be impossible without cosmonaut scientists."3

Though the search for the first Soviet cosmonauts was limited to Air Force pilots, Korolyov, too, foresaw a time when civilian engineers and scientists would fly into space. Efforts to allow civilians to apply for cosmonaut training finally succeeded in

September 1961, when the medical commission authorised civilian applications, although nothing much would happen for a few years. In the United States at this time, the sub-orbital flights of Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom had placed Americans "in space", but not into orbit. In light of Gagarin's success and his own frustrations with the situation in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy needed a challenging new goal to inspire the nation. As previously noted, his choice of the Moon landing programme made no provision for lunar science, but that goal was already being investigated by the scientific community in the United States.

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