Yuri Gagarin’s day is celebrated internationally on 12 April; this year is the 50th Anniversary of his successful flight.
On 12 April 1961, Gagarin spent 108 minutes in space completing an orbit around the Earth, taking his place in history as the first human in space.
Yuri Gagarin’s courageous contribution opened the doors of space to the human race. Since that day, mankind was no longer constrained to our planet or our atmosphere.
His first step has been followed by hundreds of astronauts. In the near future many more will continue on their way to new destinations including other planets.
Now a Russian hero, Gagarin was born on 9 March, 1934 in Klushino, a Russian village of the Smolensk region. The adjacent town of Gzhatsk was renamed Gagarin in 1968 in his honour.
Early in his life his education was compromised by WWII, when his village was occupied by fascists and schools closed. After the war he completed school and graduated in 1949 to enter vocational school to become a moulder.
He graduated with honours in 1951 and was sent to Saratov technical school, where he attended the Saratov aeroclub. The Aeroclub authorities recommend him to attend Chkalov Air Force academy in Orenburg, from where he graduated as a pilot in 1957.
For the following 3 years he served as fighter pilot of the Soviet North Fleet. During that time he signed up as candidate to become a cosmonaut.
In 1960, at the age of 25, the then Luitenant Pilot Yury Gagarin received confirmation that he was chosen to train as a cosmonaut.
Out of 400 initial candidates only 20 were selected for the space programme, all of them fighter pilots, as no other person was thought to have the ability to fly alone and play the role of pilot, navigator and wireless communicator.
According to Viktor Gorbatko, a fellow cosmonaut who trained with him in 1960, Gagarin was a very popular person, liked by everyone, from superiors to subordinates and was clearly better than his colleagues in his mentality, attitude and ability.
The selected cosmonauts were all physically fit as a result of a rigorous training programme. Rules were very strict, for instance, three of the trainees lost their places because they were found drinking beer in public.
Gagarin's outstanding abilities during training impressed his superiors even at early stages of their programme. In one occasion, when the trainees met Sergey Korolyov, the founding father of the Soviet space programme, he picked Yuri Gagarin first for interview and then continued with the others in alphabetical order. A sign of his popularity among officials.
The authorities shortlisted the best 6 based on ability, and in further selection, they picked 2 main candidates, Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov. Finally, by collective decision, they selected Gagarin as the first person to go to space. Titov became the second human to orbit the planet, he stayed in orbit for little more than a day on 6 August 1961.
In the 60s none knew what to expect from living in space, they didn't know if a human would survive the immense pressures at launch or the extremely low pressure of vacuum of space or the burning heat of re-entry. Candidates were trained exhaustively to prepare them for any eventuality.
As part of their training they had to experience up to 12G in a centrifuge in Germany and resisted flying at an altitude of 15km in a chamber with just oxygen masks without space suit. These extreme tests were later removed from the training programme. Other tests included numerical and logical challenges to test their alertness at crucial times.
When Gagarin went to space he had the rank of Lieutenant and was a candidate to become a Captain on his return. His superiors decided to promote him to Major instead as an award for a successful mission.
Upon his return from space Gagarin became a celebrity in the Soviet Union and all over the world. The state used him as an ambassador of his country and a symbol of Russian supremacy in the battle for the first man in space, touring him throughout the planet.
His wellbeing became so important that he was not allowed to fly anymore and the state wanted to protect the superstar at all costs. A frustrating situation for any young fighter pilot.
After he became a commander his attitude did not change, he was still friendly with his colleagues. His rank escalated to deputy administrator of the Cosmonaut Training Centre, which meant he was not going to go to space again but he kept training as a fighter pilot.
In March 1968 he was authorised to fly again but his first attempt had to be postponed due to bad weather. On 27 March he tested a MiG 15 jet rather than the MiG17 he was supposed to fly.
After completing his routine in the air, he reported that he was coming back to base. That was the last that was heard from him. His plane crashed on landing, turning him into a true legend.
No clear explanation resulted from the investigations of the tragedy. Planes at that time did not have recording devices like the “black box,” therefore the reason of his crash remains a mystery.
In the space competition of the time, America came second with Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr reaching space for 15 minutes on 5 May 1961; but it wasn’t until 1962 that John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, making him the third after Gagarin and Titov.
CELEBRATIONS AROUND THE WORLD
The 12th of April is widely celebrated in Russia; they commemorate Yuri Gagarin’s heroic achievement that made the nation the winner of the race for space.
In recent decades, the former rival super powers have improved their relationship and now that they work together in space exploration, this celebration has extended to the whole world.
Another space milestone is also celebrated on the same date. Coincidentally, 20 years later, in 1981, the first Space Shuttle Orbiter launched on the 12 April, starting a new era of humans living in space.
Yuri’s Night is a global celebration of human space flight with Yuri Gagarin as a symbolic representative of that important day.
The organizers made a proposal at the United Nations’ Space Generation Advisory Council, when they met in Graz, Austria in September of 2000. The launch or this effort was in 2001.
As mentioned on their website, this celebration has been growing in popularity every year; from the 60 parties organised at the beginning, to the current 557 events in 75 countries on 7 continents on 2 worlds (including Second Life).
The main purpose of this movement is to promote the interest in space flight; and there are many other organisations that are trying to make space a common place.
Even the crew of the International Space Station wore Yuri’s Night T-Shirts as they sent a message to the planet celebrating 50 years of human spaceflight. Astronaut Cady Coleman surprised everyone playing a flute duet with Ian Anderson, the famous flautist from the group Jethro Tull.
The team from Spacevidcast.com also joined the global party by broadcasting live on that day. They showed Yuri’s night parties from all over the world.
Well done to everyone and Happy Yuri’s Night!
FIRST ORBIT – THE MOVIE
The movie “First Orbit” was published on 12 April 2011, the 50th Anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historical flight into orbit.
Director Christopher Riley used original audio recordings from the Russian Space Agency and video from the International Space Station to show what Yuri Gagarin saw during the 108 minutes of his experience in space as he looked at the Earth from his spacecraft; an original description from the first human in space.
“We tried to match the orbit of the ISS to that of the original path followed by Gagarin in 1961.
His trajectory started early in the morning, at around 6:30, flying over the Pacific Ocean, parallel to the west coast of the United States, reaching the southern point of South America by 7:00 am.
After travelling over the Southern Atlantic Ocean, Gagarin reached the West Coast of Africa at around 7:20. His descent started at 7:37am, as he flew over Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.
Astronaut Paolo Nespoli shot the video from the ISS, while the station followed a similar trajectory.”
First Orbit – The Movie (duration 1:36hr):
Director: Christopher Riley,
Director of Photography: Astronaut Paolo Nespoli,
Film Editor: Stephen Slater,
Composer: Philip Sheppard, in association with Yuri Gagarin 50 and Yuri’s Night.
References¤ “The Making Of First Orbit” (2011). FirstOrbit on YouTube. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 12 April 2011).
¤ “Yuri Gagarin” (2011). Wikipedia. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 12 April 2011).
¤ “Yuri Gagarin – A biography” (2011). Russia.ic. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 12 April 2011).
¤ “Yuri’s Night – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight” (2011). Yuri’s Night. [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 12 April 2011).