Celebrating 40 years of Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin – 1934 – 68


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Yuri Gagarin literally rocketed to fame when he became the first man in space in 1961. Strapped into a tiny spherical space capsule, Gagarin made a complete orbit of the earth, before landing safely less than two hours after blastoff.  By demonstrating that humans could survive weightlessness and the crushing acceleration of a rocket ascent, his flight paved the way for all future manned spaceflights.

Born on a collective farm, Gagarin trained as an industrial worker before taking a course in flying and enrolling as an airforce cadet. He was 27 and at the peak of physical fitness when he went into orbit – his main task was to survive a space flight that was controlled automatically throughout.

Gagarin’s daring exploit earned him instant worldwide fame and a shower of national honours. However, he never went into space again but undertook several world tours to promote the Soviet space program. Due to his unique experience, he was also assigned to train aspiring cosmonauts. He died in a jet accident during a training session.

Soviet Union puts first man in space

April 12 1961. The Soviet Union won the race to place a man in space by sending 27-year-old air force Major Yuri Gagarin into orbit and bringing him safely back to earth.

A brief announcement by the official press agency, Tass, said Gagarin had orbited the earth in a 10,395-pound sputnik named Vostok, or East. It said the spacecraft’s orbit had a maximum altitude of 187.75 miles and a minimum of 109.50 miles, and that each revolution around the earth took 89.10 minutes.

The first official word of the flight came when a Moscow radio announcer broke into a program just before 10 a.m. local time and said emotionally, “Russia has successfully launched a man into space.” The announcement was repeated three times, after which the station played patriotic music.

Gagarin applied a braking device and landed less than an hour later in what was described as the “prescribed area” of the Soviet Union. Tass said that after the landing, Gagarin requested that a message be relayed to the party and the government, and personally to Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, “that the landing was normal. I feel well, have no injuries or bruises.” The only statement attributed to him during his historic flight was: “Flight is proceeding normally. I am well.”

Gagarin was described by Tass as an industrial technician who is married. Other sources said he probably has been trained as a test pilot. He was reported to have received preflight training similar to that of the seven astronauts who will fly the United States’ first manned missions, scheduled for later this year.

Tass said the Vostok was sent into orbit by a multistage rocket from the Soviet launch site at Tyura Tam and that constant radio contact was maintained with Gagarin during the mission. It said his condition was monitored continually by radio telemetering devices and television.

Rumours of an impending manned space flight had been circulating in Moscow for the past 24 hours. Several sources said the Soviet Union had sent a man into space and brought him back successfully last week, a report that led to speculation that something had gone wrong with an earlier mission.

Russia’s Space Flight Anniversary

President Vladimir Putin marked the anniversary of a pioneering space flight by pledging to support Russia’s space industry, which has fallen on hard times in the 40 years since cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin elated Russians and shocked the West by orbiting the Earth.

Gagarin’s 108-minute single orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961 – weeks before the United States was able to put Alan Shepard on a 15-minute sub-orbital flight – raised fears the Soviet Union had taken an unbeatable lead in the space race.

But Russia’s post-Soviet economic troubles have drained money for the space program, and it suffered a severe blow to morale last month when the deteriorating space station Mir was scrapped in a fiery plunge into the Pacific Ocean.

Despite all difficulties … the tremendous potential of highly skilled experts engaged in this field and the implementation of national and international programs will enable this country to stay on the cutting edge of space exploration in the new century,” Putin said in a statement.

Despite the pledge, space engineers held a rally outside the government headquarters in Moscow, where a Cabinet meeting was taking place, to protest cuts in funding for space research.

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