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The World Celebrates 60 Years of Human Space Flight
On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, making a 108-minute orbital flight in his Vostok 1 spacecraft. Newspapers across the world, like The Huntsville Times, trumpeted Gagarin's accomplishment. Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space less than a month later. (Image Credit: NASA)
The World Celebrates 60 Years of Human Space Flight
Sixty Years ago, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin became the first human in space. On April 12, 1961, his remotely controlled Vostok 1 spacecraft lofted him to an altitude of about 200 miles and carried him once around the planet.
The world learned about the first manned flight into space through a brief communiqué from the Soviet TASS News Agency:
TASS Communiqué, Moscow, April 12, 1961
The Soviet Union has successfully launched a manned spaceship-satellite into an orbit around the Earth.
Present aboard the spaceship is the pilot cosmonaut, Youri Alekseyevitch Gagarin, an Air Force pilot, 27 years of age.
The spaceship was launched about 9 am Moscow time, April 12, 1961. The spaceship is named Vostok (East) and weighs 4,725 kg, including the pilot but excluding the last stage of the carrier rocket.
The hermetically sealed cabin of the spaceship is equipped with a two-way radio, TV, and a telephone-type communication system.
Transmissions are made on the frequencies of 9.17 Mc, 20.06 Mc, and 143.625 Mc.
The orbital period is 89.01 min, the perigee is 188 km, the apogee is 302 km, and the orbital inclination toward the equatorial plane is 65” 41’
At 9:22 am Moscow time, Major Youri Gagarin reported that he was over South America and that he was in excellent spirits.
At 10:15 am Moscow time, Major Gagarin reported flying over Africa.
The state of weightlessness is no hindrance to a human being.
He can eat and drink without any difficulties.
The flight is proceeding in a normal manner.
At 10:25 am Moscow time, the braking device was activated.
The spaceship Vostok began its descent toward a preselected point on the territory of the Soviet Union.
The spaceship Vostok landed safely, by a command from a control station on the territory of the USSR at 10:55 am Moscow time.
Major Youri Gagarin said after landing: “I would like to report to the Party, our Government, and personally to Nikita Khrushchev, that the mission was successfully accomplished. Acceleration was a rough experience, but endurable.”
Strictly a passenger, Gagarin's onboard controls were locked out by a secret combination. In case of an emergency, he carried the combination in a sealed envelope. After reentry, Gagarin ejected from the Vostok at an altitude of 20,000 feet and parachuted to Earth.
How was the first view from space? He reportedly commented, "The sky is very dark. The Earth is bluish. Everything is seen very clearly."
This first manned flight seemed to confirm Soviet technological superiority. Alan Shepard, the first US astronaut would not be launched until almost a month later and then on a comparatively short suborbital flight.
Colonel Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin was born of a peasant family in the village of Klushino, Smolensk region of Russia on March 9, 1934. His education was primarily in the vocations until he entered pilot training at Orenburg in 1957. He was an air force jet pilot before being chosen for the first group of cosmonauts in 1960.
As a result of his historic flight he became an international hero and legend. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was called "The Columbus of The Cosmos," an apt and well-deserved title. His epic 108 minute Earth orbital flight was far more than just a successful operational mission. It was man's first encounter with the nether regions of space and the beginning of man's journey to the stars. As pilot of the spaceship Vostok, he proved that man could endure the rigors of lift-off, re-entry, and weightlessness, and yet still perform the manual operations essential to spacecraft flight.
On the night before his flight while others paced and worried, "Cosmonaut One" slumbered. When asked how he could sleep so peacefully on the eve of the launching, Yuri answered, "Would it be right to take off if I were not rested? It was my duty to sleep so I slept."
At the conclusion of his flight, he was subjected to intensive debriefing and scientific examination. It was found that in spite of the difficult and strange weightless environment, his skills as a pilot permitted him to work and to record important data, which his fellow cosmonauts and scientific collaborators would find vital to future space flights.
His impressions of space flight are filled with words of poetry - joy - beauty - black sky - bright stars.
Sadly, Gagarin was killed in a tragic accident when his MIG jet crashed during a training flight on March 27, 1968, Gagarin was given a hero's funeral and his ashes were interred in the Kremlin Wall.
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