Major Yuri A. Gagarin, age 27, was the first man to orbit Earth. He was a Soviet cosmonaut. He was also a Soviet Air Force pilot and a parachutist.
Yuri Gagarin's parents were peasants on a collective farm in the village of Gzhatsk. Gagarin thus represented the ideal of the "new communist man." Gzhatsk is now called "Gagarin City."

Sergei Korolev was the Soviet Union's chief rocket designer. He selected Gagarin to be the first cosmonaut to orbit the Earth. Gherman Titov was chosen as the backup.
Gagarin's spacecraft was called Vostok 1. He said that Vostok 1 was "more beautiful than a locomotive, a steamer, a plane, a palace, and a bridge -- more beautiful than all of these creations put together."
The booster rocket for the spacecraft was called A-1. The booster had three stages.
The launch site was the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is located near the city of Tyuratam in Kazakhstan, close to the Aral Sea.
Gagarin made a single orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961. His flight lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes. The apogee was about 203 miles above sea level. The orbital speed was approximately 17,000 miles per hour.
During the flight, Gagarin monitored onboard systems, ate, drank, and watched the Sun rise over North America. Sergei Korolev asked over the radio, "How do you feel?" Gagarin replied, "I feel fine. How about you?"

After the flight, Gagarin reported, "I could clearly discern the outlines of continents, islands and rivers. The horizon presents a sight of unusual beauty. A delicate blue halo surrounds the Earth, merging with the blackness of space in which the stars are bright and clear cut."

During reentry, the Vostok capsule was supposed to separate cleanly from its equipment module, but the two remained tethered by an umbilical line. The Vostok spacecraft tumbled at a rate of 30 degrees per second. As a result, Gagarin experienced an acceleration of 10 G. The tumbling continued until the umbilical cord finally burned through.
As part of the flight plan, Gagarin exited the spacecraft at an altitude of about 20,000 feet and then parachuted to the ground. He landed near Saratov in the Volgograd region.
The Soviet government apparently kept this parachute detail secret for many years. The Soviets sought to give an impression that the Vostok spacecraft made a soft landing with Gagarin still inside. The Federation Aeronautique International required that a pilot land with his vehicle in order to claim a complete flight for the record books.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev congratulated Gagarin after the flight, declaring: "You have made yourself immortal because you are the first man to penetrate space."
Gagarin replied: "Now let the other countries try to catch us."

After the flight, Gagarin visited 28 countries. He attended banquets, gave speeches, and answered fan mail.

Gagarin also supervised training for women cosmonauts, which led to Valentina Tereshkova's flight in June 1963.

The people of the Soviet Union called Gagarin, the "Columbus of the Cosmos."
Gagarin died in an airplane crash on March 27, 1968. He was on a training flight in a MiG-15 aircraft.
Alan B. Shepard was the first American in space. He made a short, suborbital flight on May 5, 1961.
John Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth. His flight was on February 20, 1962.
Tom Harpole, "Saint Yuri," Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., Dec 98/Jan 99.

 Books and Videos about the Space Race

The Right Stuff - This film is based on Tom Wolfe's book. It begin's with the story of the Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. It then gives an historical drama about the Mercury space program.

The Dish - Historical drama-comedy about the town of Parkes in New South Wales, Australia. A 1,000-ton radio observatory dish is built in Parkes to relay telemetry, voice, and television signals from the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

A Man on the Moon : The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts

Apollo 13 - Astronaut's Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise make an heroic return to Earth after an internal explosion cripples their Apollo 13 service module. - Starring Tom Hanks. Directed by Ron Howard.

October Sky - Homer H. Hickam Jr. and his friends build and launch models rockets in a West Virginia coal mining town in response to the launch of Sputnik. Based on a true story.

The Rocket Men : Vostok and Voskhod, the First Soviet Space Flights - History of the Soviet space program.

Books and Videos about the Cold War

Atomic Cafe - Director Jayne Loader used government film clips in an expose of the madness and propaganda of the "Duck and Cover" era.

Thirteen Days - Historical drama about President's Kennedy's response to the Cuban missile crisis - Starring Kevin Costner.

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - Arguably the greatest black comedy ever made, Stanley Kubrick's cold war classic is the ultimate satire of the nuclear age. - Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, and Slim Pickins. Peter Sellers excels in three fine roles--as the Nazi braintrust Dr. Strangelove, as President Merkin Muffley, and RAF officer Lionel Mandrake.

The Russians are Coming - Popular comedy about a Russian submarine that lands off New England coast. Starring Alan Arkin, Eva Marie Saint, Carl Reiner, Brian Keith, and Jonathan Winters.

The Manchurian Candidate - Suspenseful political thriller about a Korean war hero's decoration and his mother's machinations to promote her Joseph McCarthy-like husband's career. Starring Angela Lansbury, and Frank Sinatra.

The Iron Giant - As Sputnik orbits the Earth, Hogarth, a young boy who lives in the Maine woods during the cold war, befriends a giant robot.

WarGames - Teenage computer whiz hacks into a computer system looking for games. He inadvertently causes the system to begin countdown for thermonuclear missile strikes against the Soviet Union. Starring Matthew Broderick.

The Day the Earth Stood Still - A flying saucer lands at Washington D.C.An alien named Klaatu and his robot Gort emerge from the saucer. Klaatu warns the people that the Earth will be destroyed if they continue nuclear warfare. The film is very suspenseful. Some critics regard it as the greatest science fiction film ever made despite its lack of special effects.


Please send comments and questions to Tom Irvine at: tomirvine@aol.com
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