John M. White

Yuri Gagarin, The First Man In Space

Apr 7, 2023
On April 12th, 1961, a Soviet Vostok-1 rocket launched the first man into Earth orbit, becoming the first man in space.

Cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin was launched into Earth orbit from the Kosmodrom Baykonur, Kazakhistan.
Yuri Gagarin slips the surly bonds of Earth to become the first human in space.

The spacecraft he flew in was a spherical Vostok 3KA-3 capsule which was carried into low earth orbit by a three-stage Vostk 8K72K rocket.

This spacecraft was 16 feet, 6.4 inches long,  with a diameter of 8 feet, 2.4 inches. This craft had a gross mass of 10,428 pounds.

This is an image of the Vostok spacecraft with technicians working on it in 1961.
Technicians working on the Vostok spacecraft in 1961,

The Vostok-K 8K72 was a modified R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile that had two core stages and four external boosters. The first stage had a total thrust of 1,100,775 pounds, while the second stage engine produced 11,015 pounds of thrust.

The first two stages of the rocket stood at 101.18 Feet and weight 610680 pounds. The rocket carried the spacecraft to a height of approximately two hundred miles before the capsule separated from the second stage.

The spacecraft made one orbit of the earth lasting just 89.34 minutes before starting its descent over Africa.

 As the spacecraft descended through 20,996 feet, Gagarin ejected himself from the capsule and parachuted to the ground.

While Gagarin was circling the Earth he was promoted to the rank of Major.

A photo of Yuri Gagarin's space capsule on the ground while Gagarin drifted down fo 20,966 feet in a parachute landing 9/10ths of a mile away.
The space capsule on the ground about 1 mile from where Yuri Gagarin parachuted to Earth.

Gagarins Early Life

On March 9th, 1934, Yuri Gagarin was born the third of four children in a village in the Smolensk Oblast. His father, Alexey Gagarin, was a carpenter, and his family all worked on a collective farm.

The family was forced from the farm by the Germans during the invasion of 1941.

At the age of 16, Yuri Gagarin became an apprentice at a steel foundry in Moscow. A school there for workers allowed him to get an education and, one year later, he was sent to a technical school in Saratov.

It was there he first flew in an airplane, a Yakovlev Yak-18 trainer, at the local aero club.

 A Yakovlev Yak-18 trainer similar to the one Yuri Gagarin took his first flight in an airplane.
A Yakovlev Yak-18 trainer similar to the one Yuri Gagarin took his first flight in an airplane.

Upon graduation from technical school, Yuri enlisted as a cadet at the military flight school at Orenburg. He graduated from flight school as a Lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force on November 6, 1957.

One week earlier, on October 27, 1957, Sergeant Gagarin married Valentina Ivanova Goryacheva, a medical technician at the air base.

A photograph of Sergeant Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin and his wife Valentian Ivanova Gorycheva
Yuri Gagarin and his wife Valentina. 

Lt. Gagarin was assigned to fly MiG-15 fighters as an interceptor pilot at an air base 125 miles north of Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula.

Fast forward to 1960, and Yuri is among the original twenty pilots chosen for the space program. That class was subsequently reduced to six cosmonaut candidates, and in the end, Yuri and Gherman Stepanovich Titov were the final two candidates.

Gagarin was chosen for the first manned space launch and flight.

A photograph of Yuri Gagarin in his space capsule.
Yuri Gagarin, Hero of the Soviet Union, in his space capsule.

His flight netted three FAI Records, Numbers 9326, 9327, and 9328, for his flight.

Yuri Gagarin's Career Ends In Tragedy

Yuri continued his career in the Soviet Air Force, gaining the rank of Colonel.

On March 27, 1968, Colonel Gagarin was on a routine training flight with an instructor in a MiG-15UTI two-place trainer.

Photo of a MiG-15UTI In Flight like the one Yuri Gagarin died in.
A MiG-15 UTI like the one Yuri Gagarin perished in.

The weather was poor, with rain, snow, wind, and low clouds at about 14,000 feet.

Suddenly, a Sukhoi Su-15 on a test flight when the SU-15 pilot was below his assigned altitude and, while passing through clouds, came within 50-70 feet of Gagarin's MiG-15UTI. 

The wing vortices of the SU-15 put Gagarin's airplane into a spin from which he could not recover.

Fifty-five seconds after his last transmission, the MiG-15UTI crashed, killing both pilots aboard the aircraft.

A sad ending for the Hero of the Soviet Union.

Until next time, keep your eyes safe and focused on what's ahead of you, Hersch!

I hope you enjoyed this trip through some of the history of aviation. If you enjoyed this trip, and are new to this newsletter, sign up to receive your own weekly newsletter here: Subscribe here:

 

 

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