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Gagarin, Yuri A. (1934-1968)

Gagarin, Yuri A. (1934-1968)

Russian cosmonaut

Yuri A. Gagarin was the first human in space . In 1961, the boyish-looking Soviet cosmonaut captured the attention of the world with his short flight around the earth. "He invited us all into space," American astronaut Neil Armstrong said of him, as quoted in Aviation Week and Space Technology.

The third of four children, Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin was born on a collective farm in Klushino, in the Smolensk region of the Russian Federation. His father, Aleksey Ivanovich Gagarin, was a carpenter on the farm and his mother, Anna, a dairymaid. Gagarin grew up helping them with their work. Neither of his parents had much formal education, but they encouraged him in his schooling. During World War II, the family was evicted from their home by invading German troops, and Gagarin's older brother and sister were taken prisoner for slave labor, though they later escaped.

After the war, Gagarin went to vocational school in Moscow, originally intending to become a foundry worker, and then he moved on to the Saratov Industrial Technical School. He was still learning to be a foundryperson, although his favorite subjects were physics and mathematics. In 1955, during his fourth and final year of school, he joined a local flying club. His first flight as a passenger, he later wrote in Road to the Stars, "gave meaning to my whole life." He quickly mastered flying, consumed by a new determination to become a fighter pilot. He joined the Soviet Air Force after graduation. The launch of Sputnikthe first artificial satellite sent into spaceoccurred on October 4, 1957, while he pursued his military and flight training. He graduated with honors that same year and married medical student Valentina Ivanova Goryacheva. They would have two children, a daughter and a son.

Gagarin volunteered for service in the Northern Air Fleet and joined the Communist Party. He followed closely news of other Sputnik launches; although there had been no official announcement, Gagarin guessed that preparations for manned flights would soon begin and he volunteered for cosmonaut duty. Gagarin completed the required weeks of physical examinations and testing in 1960, just before his twenty-sixth birthday. He was then told that he had been made a member of the first group of twelve cosmonauts. The assignment was a secret, and he was forbidden to tell even his wife until his family had settled into the new space-program complex called Zvezdniy Gorodok (Star Town), forty miles from Moscow. An outgoing, natural leader, the stocky, smiling Gagarin stood out even among his well-qualified peers. Sergei Korolyov, the head of the Soviet space program and chief designer of its vehicles, thought Gagarin had the makings of a first-rate scientist and engineer, as well as being an excellent pilot. In March of 1961, Korolyov approved the selection of Gagarin to ride Vostok I into orbit.

Senior Lieutenant Gagarin made history on April 12, 1961, when a converted ballistic missile propelled his Vostok capsule into Earth orbit from the remote Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Vostok was controlled automatically, and Gagarin spent his time reporting observations of the Earth and his own condition. He performed such tasks as writing and tapping out a message on a telegraph key, thus establishing that a human being's coordination remained intact even while weightless in space. Proving that people could work in space, he also ate and drank to verify that the body would take nourishment in weightlessness. He commented repeatedly on the beauty of the earth from space and on how pleasant weightlessness felt.

Gagarin rode his spacecraft for 108 minutes, ejecting from the spherical reentry module after the craft reentered the atmosphere just short of one complete orbit. Ejection was standard procedure for all Vostok pilots, although Gagarin dutifully supported the official fiction that he had remained in his craft all the way to the grounda requirement for international certification of the flight as a record. Cosmonaut and capsule landed safely near the banks of the Volga River.

After doctors proclaimed him unaffected by his flight, Gagarin was presented to the public as an international hero. He received an instant promotion to the rank of major and made appearances around the world. He was named a Hero of the Soviet Union and a Hero of Socialist Labor, and he became an honorary citizen of fourteen cities in six countries. He received the Tsiolkovsky Gold Medal of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the Gold Medal of the British Interplanetary Society, and two awards from the International Aeronautical Federation. The flight had many implications for international affairs: American leaders extended cautious congratulations and redoubled their own efforts in the space race, while the Soviet media proclaimed that Gagarin's success showed the strength of socialism.

Gagarin became commander of the cosmonaut team. In 1964, he was made deputy director of the cosmonaut training center at the space program headquarters complexwhere he oversaw the selection and training of the first women cosmonauts. He served as capsule communicatorthe link between cosmonauts and ground controllersfor four later space flights in the Vostok and Voskhod programs. At various times during this period, he also held political duties; he chaired the Soviet-Cuban Friendship Society and served on the Council of the Union and the Supreme Soviet Council of Nationalities.

Gagarin always wanted to venture back to space, and in 1966, he was returned to active status to serve as the backup cosmonaut to Vladimir Komarov for the first flight of the new Soyuz spacecraft. When the Soyuz 1 mission ended and Komarov died due to a parachute malfunction, Gagarin was assigned to command the upcoming Soyuz 3. But Gagarin himself did not live to fly the Soyuz 3 mission. On March 27, 1968, he took off for a routine proficiency flight in a two-seat MiG15 trainer. He and his flight instructor became engaged in low-level maneuvers with two other jets. Gagarin's plane crossed close behind another jet and was caught in its vortex; he lost control and the jet crashed into the tundra at high speed, killing both occupants instantly.

Gagarin was given a hero's funeral. The Cosmonaut Training Center was renamed in his honor, as were his former hometown, a space tracking ship, and a lunar crater. His wife continued to work as a biomedical laboratory assistant at Zvezdniy Gorodok, and Gagarin's office there was preserved as a museum; a huge statue of him was erected in Moscow. His book Survival in Space was published posthumously. Written with space-program physician Vladimir Lebedev, the work outlines Gagarin's views on the problems and requirements for successful long-term space flights. On April 12, 1991, thirty years after Gagarin's flight, his cosmonaut successors, along with eighteen American astronauts, gathered at Baikonur to salute his achievements.

See also History of manned space exploration

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Gagarin, Yuri Alexeyevich

GAGARIN, YURI ALEXEYEVICH

(19341968), cosmonaut; first human to orbit Earth in a spacecraft.

The son of a carpenter on a collective farm, Yury Gagarin was born in the village of Klushino, Smolensk Province. During World War II, facing the German invasion, his family evacuated to Gziatsk (now called Gagarin City). Gagarin briefly attended a trade school to learn foundry work, then entered a technical school. He joined the Saratov Flying Club in 1955 and learned to fly the Yak-18. Later that year, he was drafted and sent to the Orenburg Flying School, where he trained in the MIG jet. Gagarin graduated November 7, 1957, four days after Sputnik 2 was launched. He married Valentina Goryacheva, a nursing student, the day he graduated.

Gagarin flew for two years as a fighter pilot above the Arctic Circle. In 1958 space officials recruited air force pilots to train as cosmonauts. Gagarin applied and was selected to train in the first group of sixty men. Only twelve men were taken for further training at Zvezdograd (Star City), a training field outside Moscow. The men trained for nine months in space navigation, physiology, and astronomy, and practiced in a mockup of the spacecraft Vostok. Space officials closely observed the trainees, subjecting them to varied physical and mental stress tests. They finally selected Gagarin for the first spaceflight. Capable, strong, and even-tempered, Gagarin represented the ideal Soviet man, a peasant farmer who became a highly trained cosmonaut in a few short years. Sergei Korolev, the chief designer of spacecraft, may have consulted with Nikita Khrushchev, Russia's premier, to make the final selection.

Gagarin was launched in Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome near Tyuratam, Kazakhstan. The Vostok spacecraft included a small spherical module on top of an instrument module containing the engine system, with a three-stage rocket underneath. Gagarin was strapped into an ejection seat. He did not control the spacecraft, due to uncertainty about how spaceflight would affect his physical and mental reactions. He orbited the earth a single time at an altitude of 188 miles, flying for one hour and forty-eight minutes. He then ejected from the spacecraft at an altitude of seven kilometers, parachuting into a field near Saratov. His mission proved that humans could survive in space and return safely to earth.

Gagarin was sent on a world tour to represent the strength of Soviet technology. A member of the Communist Party since 1960, he was appointed a deputy of the Supreme Soviet and named a Hero of the Soviet Union. He became the commander of the cosmonaut corps and began coursework at the Zhukovsky Institute of Aeronautical Engineering. An active young man, Gagarin often felt frustrated in his new life as an essentially ceremonial figure. There were many reports of Gagarin's resulting depression and hard drinking. In 1967, however, he decided to train as a backup cosmonaut in anticipation of a lunar landing.

On March 27, 1968, Gagarin conducted a test flight with a senior flight instructor near Moscow. The plane crashed, killing both men instantly. Gagarin's tragic death shocked the public in the USSR and abroad. A special investigation was conducted amid rumors that Gagarin's drinking caused the crash. Since then, investigators have indicated other possible causes, such as poor organization and faulty equipment at ground level.

Gagarin received a state funeral and was buried in the Kremlin Wall. American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin left one of Gagarin's medals on the moon as a tribute. The cosmonaut training center where he had first trained was named after him. A crater on the moon bears his name, as does Gagarin Square in Moscow with its soaring monument, along with a number of monuments and streets in cities throughout Russia. At Baikonur, a reproduction of his training room is traditionally visited by space crews before a launch. Russians celebrate Cosmonaut Day on April 12 every year in honor of Gagarin's historic flight.

See also: space program

bibliography

Gagarin, Yuri. (1962). Road to the Stars, told to Nikolay Denisov and Serhy Borzenko, ed. N. Kamanin, tr. G. Hanna and D. Myshnei. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

Gurney, Clare, and Gurney, Gene. (1972). Cosmonauts in Orbit: The Story of the Soviet Manned Space Program. New York: Franklin Watts.

Johnson, Nicholas L. (1980). Handbook of Soviet Manned Space Flight. San Diego, CA: Univelt.

Riabchikov, Evgeny. (1971). Russians in Space, tr. Guy Daniels. New York: Doubleday.

Shelton, William. (1969). Soviet Space Exploration: The First Decade, intro. by Gherman Titov. London: Barker.

Phyllis Conn

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Yuri Alexeivich Gagarin

Yuri Alexeivich Gagarin

The Russian cosmonaut Yuri Alexeivich Gagarin (1934-1968) was the first man to orbit the earth in an artificial satellite and thus ushered in the age of manned spaceflight.

Yuri Gagarin the third child of Alexei Ivanovich, a carpenter on a collective farm, and Anna Timofeyevna, was born on March 9, 1934, in the village of Klushino, Smolensk Province. Yuri attended an elementary school in Gzhatsk; in the sixth grade he began to study physics. At the age of 15 he became an apprentice foundryman in an agricultural machinery plant outside Moscow and enrolled in an evening school.

In 1951 Gagarin transferred to the Saratov Industrial Technical School. In 1955 he had to prepare a thesis in order to graduate. His problem was to design a foundry capable of producing 9,000 tons (metric) of castings a year. The state examining committee accepted his thesis, and he received his diploma.

Gagarin joined the Saratov Flying Club in 1955 and won his wings, learning to fly in the Yak-18. Late that year he was drafted and sent to the famous Orenburg Flying School, since he already had a pilot's license. He was disconcerted to learn that he would not be immediately put into jet planes. After he became an aviation cadet on Jan. 8, 1956, he was permitted to fly—but not in the jets he coveted. He started out all over again in the familiar Yak-18, learning to fly it the air force way. That year he also began flight training in the MIG jet.

Cosmonaut Selection and Training

On Oct. 4, 1957, Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, was orbited by the Soviet Union. Four days after Sputnik 2, on Nov. 7, 1957, Gagarin graduated from the flying school and was commissioned a lieutenant in the Soviet air force. On the same day he married Valentina Goryacheva.

Gagarin spent 2 years as a fighter pilot at an airfield above the Arctic Circle. By 1958 the Soviet government was asking for volunteers from the air force to pilot its spacecraft. On Oct. 5, 1959, Gagarin made formal application for cosmonaut training; he was selected in the first group of pilots. In 1960 the original group of 50 had been whittled down to 12, and these men moved to Zvezdograd (Star City), a newly built holding and training area in a suburb of Moscow.

For Gagarin and his 11 classmates training began in earnest. They were introduced to a bewildering curriculum of space navigation, rocket propulsion, physiology, astronomy, and upper atmospheric physics and were trained on special devices to accustom them to the physiological stresses of space flight. More to Gagarin's liking were the long hours spent in the mock-up of the Vostok, an exact replica of the spacecraft in which he would later orbit the earth. After only 9 months of training the cosmonauts were told that the first flight of the Vostok would be on April 12, 1961.

Orbiting Earth

The selection of Gagarin as the first man to orbit earth was assured when each cosmonaut was asked to designate who should be the one to make the flight; 60 percent named Gagarin. He was launched in Vostok 1 on the planned date, and during the crowded 1 hour 48 minutes of his single orbit of the earth he proved that man could survive in space and perform useful tasks. His mission ended at 10:55 A.M., when he landed safely in a field near Saratov.

Following his mission, Gagarin became the commander of the cosmonaut detachment at Zvezdograd, a position he held until April 1965, when he briefly reentered mission training as a backup cosmonaut. During this period he also enrolled in the Zukovsky Institute of Aeronautical Engineering, where he began a 5-year course leading to a degree.

On March 27, 1968, Gagarin died in a plane crash outside Moscow while on a routine training flight. He was given a state funeral and was buried in the Kremlin wall facing Red Square. At the request of his wife, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin left one of Gagarin's medals on the moon as a tribute to the world's first man in space.

Further Reading

The most accessible biography for the student is Mitchell R. Sharpe, Yuri Gagarin: First Man in Space (1969). Less readily obtainable is Road to the Stars: Notes by Soviet Cosmonaut No. 1 (1961; trans. 1962), written by N. Denisov and S. Borzenko and printed in English by the Foreign Languages Publishing House in Moscow. Some biographical material is in William Shelton, Soviet Space Exploration: The First Decade (1968). □

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Gagarin, Yuri

Gagarin, Yuri

Russian Cosmonaut; First Human in Space 1934-1968

On April 12, 1961, at age twenty-seven, Yuri Gagarin, of the Soviet Union, became the first human in space. He completed one orbit of Earth before descending in his Vostok 1 spacecraft and parachuting the last 3 kilometers (2 miles) to the ground. Instantly, this Russian from a collective farm in Klushino became a world hero and household name.

After graduating from high school, Gagarin attended a machinery school to train as an ironworker. He then attended the industrial and technical school in Saratov. While there, he joined a flying club and became an amateur pilot. On the recommendation of an instructor he was accepted into the Orenburg Aviation School in 1955. Gagarin trained as a fighter pilot with the Northern Fleet. Inspired by the Soviet Union's Luna 3 satellite, which was the first to return images of the Moon's farside, he applied to become a cosmonaut and was accepted.

Gagarin's orbital flight in 1961 was a pivotal moment in the "space race" between the Soviet Union and the United States. The United States sent Alan Shepard into space on a suborbital flight three weeks after Gagarin's flight. After his orbital flight, Gagarin made many public appearances and in 1966 began training for a Soyuz flight. Unfortunately, at the age of thirty-four, he and a flight instructor were killed in the crash of their MiG-15 training jet.

see also Cosmonauts (volume 3); Government Space Programs (volume 2); History of Humans in Space (volume 3); Shepard, Alan (volume 3).

Meridel Ellis

Bibliography

Englebert, Phillis, ed. Astronomy and Space. Detroit, MI: UXL, 1997.

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Gagarin, Yuri Alekseyevich

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (yōō´rē əlyĬksyā´yəvĬch gägä´rĬn), 1934–68, Russian astronaut (cosmonaut), b. near Gzhatsk, RSFSR. He was the first in history to be rocketed into orbital space flight. His flight on Apr. 12, 1961, lasted 1 hr. 48 min. and circled the earth once. The vehicle in which he traveled, named the Vostok [East], weighed over five tons; it reached a maximum altitude of 188 mi (303 km). All control over the spacecraft was handled from the ground, the pilot's reactions being carefully recorded. The success of this flight may be said to have opened the modern era of man in space. Gagarin was killed when a plane he was testing crashed.

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Gagarin, Yuri Alekseievich

Gagarin, Yuri Alekseievich (1934–68) Russian cosmonaut, the first man to orbit Earth (April 12, 1961). Gagarin made the single orbit in 1 hour 29 minutes. He died in a plane crash.

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