With their lead in the Space Race now established the Soviet engineers turned their attention to the next great challenge developing a vehicle suitable for manned spaceflight


Like all rockets launched at Tyuratam, the R-7s were transported horizontally along a purpose-built railway system and raised to point skywards at the launch pad.


The production-line system established for the Vostok capsules has remained largely unchanged to this day. Here engineers work on fitting a Vostok spacecraft into its launch shroud.

seated in the Descent Module throughout the flight, ejecting and parachuting to the ground at the last moment.

Originally known as Object OD-2, the spacecraft was soon given the more evocative name of Vostok (East). By the time Korolev gave it his seal of approval in June 1958, the design had evolved, with plans for both manned and unmanned versions (in the unmanned version, later known as Zenit, the Descent Module would carry reconnaissance equipment). In May 1959, after some fierce political wrangles over which element of the programme took priority, the State Commission finally authorised a production schedule that aimed to achieve the first manned spaceflight by late 1960.

Fate had other ideas, however - test launches got going in May 1960, but after a series of setbacks to other aspects of the space programme in late 1960 (see pp.54, 64-65) it was to be the spring of 1961 before Korolev was allowed to risk a manned launch.


Like all rockets launched at Tyuratam, the R-7s were transported horizontally along a purpose-built railway system and raised to point skywards at the launch pad.

Although Mikhail Tikhonravov had first sketched out plans for manned spacecraft in the late 1940s, it was not until the mid-1950s that the Council of Chief Designers began to discuss the idea seriously. By 1955, some five different spacecraft designs were under consideration, and proposals for a series of suborbital spaceflights launched with the R-5 rocket got as far as recruiting volunteer cosmonauts, before being shelved as work on the R-7 ICBM took priority.

Off the drawing board

In early 1957, with plans for the first satellite launch well under way, Korolev created a new planning group at OKB-1, where talented young engineers would work on designs for a manned spacecraft that could be launched with the R-7. The kindergarten group, as it was known, developed a proposal for a two-element spacecraft, with a spherical Descent Module attached to the front of a conical Instrument Module, similar in design to Tikhonravov's Object D satellite (Sputnik 3). The Instrument Module would be abandoned in orbit, and the cosmonaut would stay



The main Soviet launch centre, the Baikonur Cosmodrome, was actually located near the village of Tyuratam, 370km (230 miles) from the town of Baikonur - the facility's location was deliberately misrepresented in an effort to confuse Western intelligence. Construction got under way in mid-1955 at a frenetic pace - a small army of construction workers and engineers was transported to a remote site in the deserts of Kazakhstan (then a Soviet Republic), where they developed facilities for the preparation and launch of rockets. Meanwhile, the railway from Tyuratam itself was improved and extended to carry rockets and other equipment transported from the factories and design bureaux around Moscow.


19 May 1960

The first unmanned test flight of the Vostok capsule, disguised as Sputnik 4, becomes stranded in orbit.

19 August 1960

A second Vostok test, Sputnik 5, carries dogs Strelka and Belka into space and successfully returns them to Earth after a day in orbit.

1 December 1960

Sputnik 6 is launched into orbit but burns up on reentry the next day.

9 March 1961

Sputnik 9, carrying a dummy cosmonaut and a dog named Chernushka, makes a successful test flight.

25 March 1961

Another successful test flight, this time under the name Sputnik 10, clears the way for a manned launch by the Soviets.


Sited in central Kazakhstan, well away from foreign borders, the Tyuratam launch site covers an area of 6,721 square km (2,593 square miles). A further 104,279 square km (40,262 square miles) of land downrange of the launch facilities was cleared in case of any rocket failures.


Baikonur Cosmodrome

August 1959

Cosmonaut selection teams visit air bases throughout the Soviet Union, searching for candidate astronauts among their top pilots.

March 1960

Construction work begins on the training complex at Star City.

11 June 1960

The cosmonaut training centre at Star City is established. Korolev has already chosen his shortlist of candidate Vostok pilots.

18 June 1960

The 20 successful cosmonaut candidates visit Kaliningrad to see the Vostok capsule under development.

19 September 1960

Korolev submits a formal proposal for a manned spaceflight for official approval by the Communist Party's Central Committee.

6 January 1961

A shortlist of six candidates for the first manned Vostok flight is drawn up.

March 1961

Gherman Titov and Yuri Gagarin are selected as the two potential pilots for Vostok 1.

Cosmonaut training

With the development of a manned Soviet space capsule finally approved in May 1959, the search for suitable cosmonauts could finally get underway.

Although the formal search for cosmonaut candidates did not begin until late 1959, there had already been some discussion of the qualities needed in a good cosmonaut, and, just as in the United States (see p.70), the selectors soon realised that jet pilots were most likely to meet the basic requirements.

In August 1959, a group of experts in aeronautical medicine began visiting air bases across the Soviet Union and interviewing candidates to fly what they mysteriously described as a "completely new type of aircraft". It was established whether the pilots had any interest in space travel, though other important selection criteria were as mundane as height and weight - many were rejected simply because they were too tall or too heavy.

Out of about 3,000 interviewees, the selection panel drew up a list of 102 potential cosmonauts, who were then sent for intensive and sometimes harrowing medical testing. Aside from numerous X-rays and physiological tests, the experts assessed their psychological well-being and ability to cope with stress and isolation. The most difficult challenge was the isolation chamber, where candidates would live and work for several days at a time, subjected to a cycle of day and night determined at the whim of the operators, with long periods of silence punctuated by occasional deafening noise. By the


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

end of this process, the shortlist of candidates had dwindled to 40, but as the deadline approached this was further reduced to an initial wave of 20.

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