Monday, April 12, 2021

Yuri Gagarin!

This space cadet had momentarily forgotten that today is the 60th anniversary of Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's historic space flight. The twenty-seven year old's one-orbit mission on Vostok 1 made him a name the world over. The news of a man travelling in space was exciting to this planet's masses, but it left many Americans stunned that such a "backwards" country could achieve such a feat and be the first to do so.

Not so backwards, after all.

First off, guidance control was so sophisticated that Gagarin's flight was totally automated, from the launch of the R-7 rocket to the cosmonaut's ejection after the capsule re-entered the Earth's atmosphere. The mission was controlled from the ground, with the space pilot having the option of taking over flight systems only if the need arose.

For all its successes, the Vostok 1 flight was not trouble-free. The scariest part for Gagarin was when the retaining straps holding his spherical capsule to the service module did not completely disconnect before the re-entry phase. The whole unwieldy vehicle tumbled wildly. The man on the ride thought the end was near. Luck, destiny, or some other force, eventually took control of the mission: Vostok 1 re-oriented itself into a proper descent attitude after the intense heat of atmospheric re-entry burned off the 'recalcitrant' metal strap.

Man and spacecraft did not land together on USSR soil for purely technical reasons, as a soft landing had not yet been perfected by the Soviet engineers. The only way to ensure complete success, not to mention comfort, was to have the cosmonaut land via parachute away from his capsule. By the way, this aspect of the flight had been kept secret, and for a good reason: Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) rules dictated that the pilot had to land in his or her vehicle, otherwise it was not a complete flight. (The secret got out when Gherman Titov admitted out loud that he had separated from his rapidly descending Vostok 2 capsule.)

Yuri Gagarin landed in a farmer's field. Mission accomplished!

"Yuri Gagarin!"


Jon said...

Odd that the flight was never subsequently disqualified on that basis.

Simon St. Laurent said...

If one were to follow the FAI's requirements, it was actually U.S. astronaut Alan Shepard who was the first man to travel in space when he flew in his Mercury capsule just a few weeks after Yuri Gagarin's trip.