Cosmonautics Day: Interesting facts about Yuri Gagarin’s flight 61 years ago

On April 12, the world celebrates the 61st anniversary of the first human spaceflight. It was on this day in 1961, the Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin first saw the Earth from orbit. This flight was really cosmic: entering orbit with an apogee of 327 km, flying around the Earth and landing. In words, it looks like everything went rather well, without a hitch and problems. But actually, the flight was accompanied by huge risks and emergency situations. In honor of World Aviation and Cosmonautics Day, The Universe Space Tech will talk about little-known facts related to the first human flight into space.

Yuri Gagarin — the first man in space

Start of traditions

Even at the preparation stage, before boarding the Vostok-1 spacecraft for the first time, Yuri Gagarin took off his shoes. Because that’s the way to enter the house according to custom. By this act, he showed his great respect for the spacecraft, which made a pleasant impression on the chief designer, Sergei Korolev.

Space traditions / Photo: Popular Mechanics

Then, during a trip by bus LAZ-695B “Lviv” to the launch pad, Yuri Gagarin asked to stop the vehicle to relieve himself. He did it right on the bus wheel — this case became a mandatory tradition of all Soviet and later Russian cosmonauts. Moreover, this action is done precisely on the rear right wheel.

Successful impromptu

“Let’s go!” — the phrase uttered by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin during the launch on April 12, 1961, became a “space meme”

The famous phrase “Let’s go!” uttered by Yuri Gagarin before takeoff, was not planned in advance. This involuntary exclamation actually turned out to be a successful impromptu, because it was remembered in history. The phrase can even be called a kind of “first space meme”. However, there is a version about its origin: the flight training of a group of cosmonauts was led by Mark Gallai, who during training instead of “Crew, I’m taking off” said: “Let’s go.”

Deadly risks

The first flight was subjected to at least three deadly situations during which Yuri Gagarin could die. At first, an inaccurate flight task was mistakenly entered into the output program of the second stage. Therefore, the apogee of the orbit was higher than the calculated one by more than 100 kilometers — 327 km instead of 230 km. Initially, the orbit was calculated so that in the event of a failure of the braking engine, the ship would descend from it independently within a week, braking in the atmosphere. From a higher orbit, this would take two months, and the supply of air, food and water on Vostok-1 would be enough for only 10 days.

Vostok-1 spacecraft. Illustration: 3ddd

The second dangerous case occurred when entering the atmosphere. The instrument-assembly compartment did not separate and was hanging on cables. Because of this, there was an intense shaking inside the Vostok-1, and Gagarin experienced very strong overloads, from which he almost lost consciousness. Fortunately, due to the heating of friction in the atmosphere, the cables burned out and came off.

The third incident occurred before landing. Yuri Gagarin ejected at an altitude of 7 km and descended separately from the capsule. But after the opening of the main parachute at an altitude of 2.5 km, the “spare” accidentally opened, which miraculously did not destroy the main canopy. In addition, Gagarin barely managed to pull the breathing valve of the spacesuit out from under the straps, so he almost suffocated. By the way, the landing could happen not on land, but in the Volga River. Only the dumping of the “ballast” weighing 30 kg helped Gagarin to reach the desired trajectory.

Growth matters

Yuri Gagarin was not tall — only 1.57 meters

The selection for the ranks of cosmonauts and the beginning of training took place in 1960. In the first group, called the “Sochi Six”, 20 pilots were selected. Yuri Gagarin and German Titov were the last two potential cosmonauts. Moreover, the strict selection concerned not only their physical qualities and piloting skills. Low growth was also an important selection criterion. Gagarin was only 1.57 meters tall, that was very important for being in the tiny cabin of the Vostok-1.

Secret password

In case of an emergency, Yuri Gagarin knew the secret password

The effects of microgravity on the human body had not been known. Therefore, the spacecraft was controlled remotely from Earth. But in case of an emergency, Yuri Gagarin still had the opportunity to switch to manual control of the ship. For example, he could independently deploy Vostok-1 and start emergency braking to descend from orbit. However, in conditions of oxygen deficiency, brain activity could be reduced, which increased the risk of pilot error. Therefore, Gagarin was asked to open a special envelope, read the secret password and entered it into the control panel. The procedure seems simple. But during hypoxia, it becomes incredibly difficult to do such simple things. However, before the flight, at least three people told Gagarin the secret password — “125”.

Summary of facts

  • Yuri Gagarin was the first person in the history of mankind who saw the Earth “live” from space.
  • The space journey lasted 108 minutes. During this time, Vostok-1 completely flew around the Earth, having overcome 41 thousand km.
  • Before the flight, Gagarin wrote a post mortem letter to his wife. He reported that, most likely, he would not return. He didn’t give her the letter. His wife found him after the cosmonaut returned home.
  • Until 1971, the USSR hid the fact that Gagarin landed separately by parachute. Because in this case, the flight could not be considered a space flight according to the rules of the International Aviation Federation.
  • Although Yuri Gagarin was a reserve pilot for further space flights, he was forbidden to return to space. Because the party was afraid to lose their hero.
  • Gagarin died on March 27, 1968, during a training flight on a MiG-15UTI fighter.
  • Because of Yuri Gagarin’s mutual respect, the first people on the Moon — Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin — left a medal of the man who paved the way to space.

We also recommend reading our article “Cosmonaut vs Polar explorer: Secrets of professions and Ukrainian achievements“. And also read interesting material about “oxygen candles” and why astronauts need them.