Into orbit

On the morning of 12 April, Korolev personally woke his cosmonauts at 5:30am. After a final series of medical checks, both astronauts were suited up, and Titov had to suffer the agony of riding with Gagarin in the bus to the launch site, then waiting on standby as his comrade was secured inside the Vostok capsule. Only then was Titov taken to an observation bunker to remove his spacesuit.

Meanwhile, engineers worked to secure Gagarin, plugging him into a variety of monitors and life-support systems. The controls of Vostok 1 were locked on autopilot and could be freed only by entering a three-digit code, intended to be sent from ground control in an emergency. However, no fewer than four people revealed the code to Gagarin before he was sealed into the spacecraft. After a last-minute glitch with a circuit monitoring the hatch closure, countdown began in earnest. At 9:06am the R-7's

BIOGRAPHY

YURI GAGARIN

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Gagarin was the son of peasant farmers, born on a collective farm near Smolensk. After showing early academic promise, he studied engineering at college, before enrolling as a fighter pilot in 1957. Selected for cosmonaut training in 1960, he soon became Korolev's favourite among the "Top Six" trainees (the two are pictured together here), which eased his selection as the first cosmonaut. After his historic flight, however, Gagarin had trouble adjusting to his new-found celebrity. Paraded as a Hero of the Soviet Union, he fell into depression, and died in a jet crash while training for a return to space on Soyuz 3.

main engines fired and slowly began to lift Gagarin towards orbit, on a 108-minute flight that would make history (see over).

Vostok's orbit initially carried it northeast across Siberia. Here, an accurate flightpath was calculated by controllers from telemetry signals received at a series of remote listening posts. Then the spacecraft swept southeast across the Pacific Ocean and onto the night side of the Earth.

Even as Gagarin passed out of radio contact into the western hemisphere, Radio Moscow was already announcing the latest Soviet success. The announcement was rather premature, for the most dangerous part of the flight was yet to come.

As Vostok 1 began re-entry above Africa, explosive charges blew the main links between the Instrument and Descent Modules - but a thick bundle of wires did not detach as planned, and Vostok 1 began to spin wildly as it plunged back into the atmosphere. Fortunately, hot gas building up around the spacecraft eventually burned through the cable, and Gagarin's capsule came free. Seven kilometres (4V2 miles) above the ground, automatic pressure sensors blew the hatch and launched Gagarin into the air in his ejector seat. He parachuted to the ground as planned in Saratov province, southern Russia.

9 March 1961

A Vostok test capsule is successfully launched.

25 March 1961

A second Vostok test capsule is successfully launched. The same day, Gagarin and Titov practise boarding the Vostok 1 capsule on the launch pad.

27 March 1961

Following the successful test flights, a manned launch is approved.

3 April 1961

Gagarin and Titov rehearse donning their spacesuits and are filmed boarding the Vostok capsule.

7 April 1961

The cosmonauts rehearse emergency procedures in case of a launch failure. Meanwhile, a closed session of the State Commission selects Gagarin to be the pilot for Vostok 1, with Titov as backup.

8 April 1961

A filmed meeting of the State Commission repeats its decision for the cameras, with Gagarin and Titov present.

11 April 1961

Gagarin and Titov undergo final pre-launch medical tests. Gagarin is given the all-clear for his historic flight.

12 April 1961

Yuri Gagarin, aboard Vostok 1, becomes the first man to travel in space.

FAMILY MAN

Gagarin met Valentino Goryacheva while in training at Orenburg Pilot's School. They married in 1957 and had two daughters, Elena and Galya.

Four minutes later, the engines cut out and the upper stage fell away, leaving Gagarin in an elliptical orbit with a period of just over 89 minutes. As Gagarin lost radio

FROM BUS TO CAPSULE

Gagarin and his backup Gherman Titov rode together in the bus to the launch pad. By 7:10, Gagarin was seated in the cramped Vostok cabin, and an hour later, he was sealed in to await the launch itself.

EXPERIENCE

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MAN ENTERS SPACE

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FAMILY MAN

Gagarin met Valentino Goryacheva while in training at Orenburg Pilot's School. They married in 1957 and had two daughters, Elena and Galya.

Yuri Gagarin's ascent into history began at 9:06am on 12 April 1961, Moscow time, as the R-7 rocket carrying Vostok 1 fired its engines and slowly lumbered off the pad at Baikonur. Before leaving Moscow, the first cosmonaut had recorded a message that might, in other circumstances, have been his epitaph:

"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 ... My whole life is now before me as a single breathtaking moment."

Two minutes into the flight, Gagarin felt a jolt of acceleration as the R-7's booster rockets separated and the core continued alone. After five minutes, that too was exhausted. By the time it too had separated, the payload shroud surrounding Vostok 1 had already fallen away. As the final rocket stage pushed him towards orbit, Gagarin reported back:

"I can see the Earth. The visibility is good I almost see everything. There's a certain amount of space under cumulus cloud cover.

I'm continuing the flight -everything is good "

Four minutes later, the engines cut out and the upper stage fell away, leaving Gagarin in an elliptical orbit with a period of just over 89 minutes. As Gagarin lost radio

FROM BUS TO CAPSULE

Gagarin and his backup Gherman Titov rode together in the bus to the launch pad. By 7:10, Gagarin was seated in the cramped Vostok cabin, and an hour later, he was sealed in to await the launch itself.

contact with Baikonur, he briefly made contact with the Kolpashevo tracking station, then was alone for three minutes as his spacecraft swept above northern Siberia. Last contact with his homeland came as he flew into the Pacific night, maintaining contact with a station at Khabarovsk on the east coast.

Even as Gagarin finally lost contact, Radio Moscow and the Soviet news agency TASS were reporting the successful launch:

"The Soviet Union has successfully launched a manned spaceship-satellite into an orbit around the Earth. Present aboard the spaceship is the pilot cosmonaut, Yuri Alekseyevitch Gagarin an Air Force pilot, 27 years of age. The spaceship was launched about 9am,

Moscow time, April 12, 1961. The spaceship is named Vostok and weighs 4,725 kilograms, including the pilot but excluding the last stage of the carrier rocket. The hermetically sealed cabin of the spaceship is equipped with a two-way radio, TV, and a telephone-type communication system."

FINAL WAVE

Yuri Gagarin is photographed for the last time before being sealed inside Vostok 1 by chief constructor Oleg Ivanovsky. The fully automated spacecraft hod a keypad to release the manual controls, with a code that would be sent from the ground in an emergency. But Nikolai Kamanin, Sergei Korolev and Ivanovsky had oil informed Gagarin of the code before launch.

HAPPY LANDINGS

-4s the recovery team moved in to retrieve the charred Vostok 1 Descent Module, Gagarin was already being greeted as a hero by well-wishers who had heard reports on the radio. Later he had time for some brief reflection before being thrust into the limelight once again.

Gagarin flew back into daylight over the Atlantic at 10:10, and Vostok 1 automatically aligned itself for its re-entry burn. As he flew on towards Africa, the lone cosmonaut continued transmitting his regular status messages, though there was no one within range to receive them. Fifteen minutes into the new day, and still 8,000km (5,000 miles) from landing, Vostok fired its engines for a 42-second braking manoeuvre. As the Instrument and Descent modules separated, the main electrical cable linking them stuck in place, and Gagarin found himself shaken and spun around as the linked modules plunged into the atmosphere.

"When they saw me in my spacesuit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don't be afraid. I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space, and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!"

Gagarin describes his meeting with a farmer and her daughter

"To be the first to enter the cosmos, to engage, single-handed, in an unprecedented duel with nature -could one dream of anything more?"

Yuri Gagarin, recorded in Moscow before the launch

Finally, after ten minutes, heat from re-entry burned through the cable and the Instrument Module fell away at around 10:35. The Descent Module now righted itself, but there were still 20 minutes of ballistic descent to endure, during which Gagarin almost blacked out under forces of up to 8g. Passing over the Black Sea, Vostok 1 re-entered Soviet airspace, slowing all the while. Finally reaching the required altitude of 7km (41/? miles) at 10:55, the spacecraft automatically ejected the escape hatch. Seconds later, Gagarin was blasted free on his ejector seat as the craft deployed its descent parachute.

JUBILANT KHRUSHCHEV

The Soviet premier received the news of Gogarin's safe return with delight, and shortly afterwards Radio Moscow reported: "At 10:55 Cosmonaut Gagarin safely returned to the soil of our motherland." Two days after the flight, Gagarin flew to Moscow to meet the Soviet leadership and was greeted as a national hero by the largest crowds the city had seen since the end of the Second World War.

JUBILANT KHRUSHCHEV

The Soviet premier received the news of Gogarin's safe return with delight, and shortly afterwards Radio Moscow reported: "At 10:55 Cosmonaut Gagarin safely returned to the soil of our motherland." Two days after the flight, Gagarin flew to Moscow to meet the Soviet leadership and was greeted as a national hero by the largest crowds the city had seen since the end of the Second World War.

1961

Vostok sets the pace

The later Vostok missions achieved a series of space firsts designed to keep the Americans on the back foot in the Space Race. Vostok 2, for example, saw cosmonaut Gherman Titov spend an entire day in space.

The decision to aim for a day-long flight was partly driven by necessity - Vostok's inclined orbit and the Earth's slow rotation meant that, within a few hours of launch, the capsule would no longer be over Soviet territory. Mission planners had to choose between a three-orbit mission, which would be over in five hours, or an entire day in space. The publicity offered by a day-long flight doubtless swung the decision.

However, there was also a scientific motivation as no one knew what the effects of extended weightlessness might be on the human body. A daylong flight would allow time for the cosmonaut to eat and sleep in orbit, as well as test how he coped psychologically. One problem became clear a few hours after the launch of Vostok 2 on 6 August 1961.

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