Into training

When the candidate cosmonauts arrived in Moscow for training, they found themselves in the custody of an intimidating figure - the newly appointed Head of Cosmonaut Training Nikolai Kamanin (see panel, opposite). Kamanin's regime was a mixture of tough physical exercise, academic lectures, and practical training. At first, the lectures focused almost entirely on the biomedical aspects of flight, but this had little appeal for a group that mostly had engineering backgrounds, and so Kamanin and Korolev brought in engineers from 0KB-1 to talk about spacecraft and launch-vehicle design, orbital mechanics, and astronomy. Training exercises included parabolic flights to simulate weightlessness, ejector seat tests, countless parachute jumps, and long periods inside the isolation chamber. In addition, the cosmonauts had to get used to the newly designed spacesuits,

CRUDE BUT EFFECTIVE

Gherman Titov spins on apparatus used to familiarise cosmonauts with rapid acceleration The Soviet cosmonaut programme also used rapidly spinning centrifuges for training.

SUITING UP

A trainee is fitted with the underloyers of his spacesuit. Soviet suits were developed from those used in high-altitude balloon flights.

WIRED FOR TESTS

Gherman Titov concentrates during medical tests - trainees were often subjected to violent vibrations or extremes of temperature.

UNDER PRESSURE

In the altitude pressure chamber, cosmonauts were subjected to very low air pressures to test how they fared at high altitude.

SUITING UP

A trainee is fitted with the underloyers of his spacesuit. Soviet suits were developed from those used in high-altitude balloon flights.

WIRED FOR TESTS

Gherman Titov concentrates during medical tests - trainees were often subjected to violent vibrations or extremes of temperature.

UNDER PRESSURE

In the altitude pressure chamber, cosmonauts were subjected to very low air pressures to test how they fared at high altitude.

I BIOGRAPHY

NIKOLAI KAMANIN

A rare group photograph captures the first nine Soviet spacefarers at Star City in 1964. At rear, left to right, are the Sputnik cosmonauts Bykovsky, Titov, Gagarin, Nikolayev, and Popovich. In front are Boris Yegorov, Konstantin Feoktistov, and Vlodimir Komorov (the crew of Voskhod 1), along with Volentina Tereshkova.

modified from high-altitude pressure suits, which they would have to wear throughout the flight. At first the trainees were based at a Moscow airfield, but by June new accommodation was ready at the specially built town of Zvezdny Gorodok (Star City), just outside Moscow. The new facilities included a flight simulator for the Vostok spacecraft itself, but with equipment limited it was decided to focus on an even smaller number of cosmonauts.

The lucky members of this "group for immediate preparedness", named on 30 May 1960, were Yuri Gagarin, Anatoly Kartashov, Andrian Nikolayev, Pavel Popovich, Gherman Titov, and Valentin Varlamov. Kartashov and Varlamov were invalided out after accidents, to be replaced by Valery Bykovsky and Grigori Nelyubov. Gagarin and Titov soon emerged as Korolev's favourites - though he took to the entire group and called them "my little swallows".

Contrary to rumours spread in the West about Soviet recklessness, Khrushchev and his engineers were very unwilling to risk a cosmonaut until they could expect to get him back in one piece.

With a manned launch planned for the spring of 1961, there was one further tragic setback to come. On 23 March, the youngest of the trainees, 24-year-old Valentin Bondarenko, died when a fire broke out in the oxygen-rich atmosphere of the isolation chamber. It was just days before the expected launch window opened, and the leading cosmonauts were not immediately told what had happened. A week later, on 30 March, final authorization for a launch was agreed.

Delays and setbacks

Even as the cosmonauts were training and the Vostok capsules rolling off the production line, rows continued about whether and when a manned launch should go ahead. The military continued to lobby for concentration on the unmanned Vostok-based spy satellites at the expense of what they saw as the publicity stunt of human spaceflight.

Meanwhile, two early attempts to launch a Mars probe failed (see pp.54-55) and a third ended in the disaster known as the Nedelin catastrophe (see p.66). There was also concern about the biological effects of spaceflight after Belka, one of two dogs carried aboard Sputnik 5, was sick in orbit.

General Nikolai Kamanin (1908-82) was a highly respected and formidable figure when made Head of Cosmonaut Training in 1960 (a role he held until 1971). After training as a pilot and an early career as a polar explorer, he became famous in 1934 for his role in the rescue of passengers and crew from an ice-bound steamship trapped in the Arctic Ocean - an event which saw him named a Hero of the Soviet Union. At Star City, he was disliked by many of the cosmonauts for his harsh regime and manner, but he had some progressive ideas - he was keen to train a group of women for space, and supported calls for civilian cosmonauts.

TECHNOLOGY

THE FIRST MANNED SPACECRAFT

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