The Blog Fodder
April 12, 2011
Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. His flight lasted 108 minutes from launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan until he landed safely somewhere near the Volga River. Not quite a full orbit but enough to get 187 miles above the earth. Gagarin was not in control of the space capsule as no one knew what the effect of being in space would be but he did have ability to take over and fly it if ground control lost contact.
Gagarin actually bailed out about 7 km up on the reentry and parachuted safely to earth because the capsule would land so hard no one inside could survive. The Soviets did not talk about this because according to the "rules" the man had to stick with the ship from takeoff to landing.
He was a hero, no doubt about it, as systems were pretty primitive and there was no guarantee he would come back alive. In fact he almost didn't as there was a reentry malfunction that nearly caused the capsule to burn up.
Just as there is a Lenin street in every urban centre of any size in the FSU, there is also a Gagarina street. In Dnipropetrovs'k (the equivalent of Houston to the Soviet space program) we lived a couple blocks from Gagarina street, one of the main thoroughfares. And here in Zhovti Vody, Gagarina street is the main drag.
Tragically, Yuri Gagarin was killed seven years later, test flying a MIG fighter plane, even as he was preparing for another flight into space. As the Russian Archives Online concluded his story: In July of 1971, the astronauts of the Apollo 15 mission visited the moon and left behind a plaque in memory of the 14 men, Russian and American, that had died leading mankind into space. Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin had made his mark on history.