The First Flight Into Space: 8 Unknown Facts

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The First Flight Into Space: 8 Unknown Facts
The First Flight Into Space: 8 Unknown Facts

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Almost 60 years have passed since the historic flight of Yuri Gagarin, and his biography was painted almost by the minute - from birth to the tragic death in a plane crash during a training flight. Despite this, many interesting details about his space mission are still little known. Some years later, the relatives and colleagues of Yuri Gagarin told, others became clear from the declassified documents. We have selected eight of the most interesting ones.

1. Barefoot to the "East"

Yuri Gagarin's acquaintance with the Vostok spacecraft happened nine months before its launch. On that day, the chief designer of the USSR, Sergei Korolev, whom Gagarin would later call his space father, met with six applicants selected to participate in the historic flight. He showed different types of spaceships, talked about their structure, and at the very end he stopped at a two-meter silver ball. It turned out to be "Vostok".

"Well, who wants to sit in the pilot's seat?" - asked the academician. Yuri Gagarin was the first to volunteer: "Allow me?" He took off his shoes and, remaining in only his socks, climbed up the ladder into the cockpit of the spacecraft.

The gesture of the young pilot made an impression on Sergei Korolev. He whispered to his deputy: "This one will probably fly first."

Spaceship "Vostok"
Spaceship "Vostok"

Spacecraft Vostok © Science Museum / Globallookpress.com

2. Twenty applicants and two stunt doubles

For the first flight into space, Yuri Gagarin had not one, but two backup. Sergei Korolyov had no doubt: the candidate should be sought in the ranks of jet fighter aircraft. We selected healthy men under 30 years old, no more than 170 cm tall and weighing up to 70 kg. All these requirements were dictated by the size of the "Vostok" and limited missile power.

After interviews and medical examinations, out of 3461 candidates, 20 people remained. During the preparation process, three leaders emerged - Yuri Gagarin, Grigory Nelyubov and German Titov. Although the latter was better prepared, it is believed that Yuri Gagarin flew first because of the "euphonious" name and exemplary Slavic appearance. Titov and Nelyubov were appointed understudies. It was they who escorted the first cosmonaut to the launch pad and were ready to fly in his place.

3. Farewell letter

Despite successful launches with animals, no one knew exactly what awaited the first astronaut in orbit. Many members of the state commission were convinced that they were choosing a suicide bomber. And Yuri Gagarin himself understood perfectly well that he was facing a dangerous journey.

Therefore, a couple of days before the start, he compiled a farewell message for his wife and two daughters. He was to be handed over to his family in case of disaster.

Valentina Gagarina read this letter, but years later - after her husband died during the plane tests on March 27, 1968. In it, Yuri Gagarin asks his spouse to take care of his daughters, arrange his personal life and, if possible, not forget about his parents. “I hope that you will never see this letter, and I will be ashamed in front of myself for this fleeting weakness,” the astronaut wrote.

4. Three options for pre-flight handling

The cosmonauts who were present at the Baikonur cosmodrome on April 12, 1961, recorded three pre-flight addresses to the Soviet people in advance. The first was prepared by Yuri Gagarin, the other two - by his understudies German Titov and Grigory Nelyubov. Especially for this, they went to the House of Radio nine days before the start, not yet knowing which of them had been chosen for the mission.

In addition, the TASS staff wrote in advance three different versions of the message about the first manned flight into space. Which of them got on the air depended on the outcome of events. The first text was planned to be published in the event of the death of an astronaut. The second - if an unforeseen situation arises in the process and an emergency landing is required. The third reported on the success of the Soviet Union. As a result, it was he who was distributed around the world in 55 minutes from the moment of launch.

Behind Yuri Gagarin - German Titov
Behind Yuri Gagarin - German Titov

Behind Yuri Gagarin - German Titov © Alexandr Yakovlev / Russian Look

5. Problems with tightness

The first space flight could be postponed. Yuri Gagarin was already lying in the Vostok's cockpit when it turned out that the hatch with the sealing lid had not closed completely - one of the contacts had not worked. This was dangerous: the launch of the ejection timer when returning to Earth depended on its serviceability.

There were only a few minutes left before the start, and it was highly undesirable to cancel the flight. Rumors reached Sergei Korolev that the Americans would send their astronaut into orbit in a week. And he decided to quickly check the contact. The engineers, with the speed of modern Formula 1 mechanics, removed more than three dozen nuts, lifted the lid, adjusted the necessary contact and re-locked the hatch. Yuri Gagarin knew that something had gone wrong. But he didn't ask questions. All this time he was whistling a song: "The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows."

6. Flying in autopilot mode

Before the first flight into space, it was unclear how the human body would react to extreme loads: whether the psyche would withstand and whether it could remain efficient under zero gravity conditions.

To minimize the risk, they decided to conduct the flight in a fully automatic mode. The cosmonaut could take control only in the event of automatic failure, but for this he needed a digital code.

Some doctors were afraid that during the flight the pilot would lose control of himself and want to turn on manual mode unnecessarily. For reassurance, the secret code was sealed in a special envelope and glued next to the astronaut's chair. Psychologists believed that it could only be discovered in a sane mind. According to the recollections of instructor Mark Gallay, the number "125" was hidden in the envelope. Fortunately, Gagarin did not need to introduce it.

Inside the spaceship "Vostok"
Inside the spaceship "Vostok"

Inside the Vostok spacecraft © Veronika Lukasova / ZUMAPRESS.com

7. “I'm on fire! Goodbye comrades "

The first cosmonaut did not suspect what would happen to the spacecraft upon entering the dense layers of the atmosphere. Yuri Gagarin thought he would die when, on the way home, he noticed the flaming body of the Vostok capsule in the window. A disturbing message came from the speakers in the flight control center. “I'm on fire! Goodbye, comrades,”Yuri Gagarin shouted loudly.

In fact, there was no danger to his life at that moment. The flame originated from the friction of the spacecraft's heat-resistant skin against the atmosphere. Today astronauts know this is a common process. This happens during each landing. But for Yuri Gagarin, the spectacular cosmic spectacle came as a big surprise. For a long time, his farewell phrase was not mentioned anywhere, and therefore it still remains little known.

8. Catapult and parachute

The first flight into space of Yuri Gagarin could remain unaccounted for due to the design features of the Vostok spacecraft. It was not equipped with the soft landing system required for a safe landing. Such technology did not yet exist in the USSR, and without it, the person inside would risk dying due to a sharp impact on the ground.

Therefore, the following scheme was invented: ten minutes before landing, the cosmonaut must eject and complete the flight with a parachute jump. Gagarin did just that. But the Soviet side had to cheat. According to the rules of the International Aviation Federation, all cosmonauts had to land in capsules. To avoid discrediting the result, the flight details were hidden from Western colleagues for a long time. This is one of the reasons why all the details of the first space launches were strictly classified.

Yuri Gagarin in the first minutes after landing
Yuri Gagarin in the first minutes after landing

Yuri Gagarin in the first minutes after landing © gagarin.ortox.ru

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