vostok-k rocket launching vostok-1 spacecraft with Yuri Gagarin inside. The first man in space

Who was the First Man to go to Space?

Space has captured the imagination of all curious humans for thousands of years. All the ancient civilizations were very heavily influenced by stars and planets. Ancient astronomers had tried to figure out what lies outside the Earth. Some of their findings were true, some were not. Religious texts and Gods were often related to the skies.

Vostok-K rocket that launched Vostok-1 first man in space artist's illustration

But the man’s curiosity was not satisfied. When technological advances came after the industrial revolution, the field of astronomy grew rapidly. Scientists were able to calculate the parameters needed to go to space and stay there.

Finally, the technology was so progressed during World War 2, that now people could actually ride atop rockets and go to space. As Cold War began between the USA and USSR, the race to space was at full speed.

Finally, the Russians were able to send a satellite around Earth in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik-1. Then the major challenge was who will be the first main in space. The Russians again were successful. Soviet Air Force pilot Yuri Gagarin was put into the Vostok-1 spacecraft on top of the Vostok-K rocket. The launch happened at 06:07 UTC on April 12, 1961, from Baikonur Cosmodrome at Site 1.

Yuri Gagarin Sergey Korolev before launch of Vostok-1 first man in space
Минобороны РФ/CC BY 4.0/Source

When the rocket started to lift up from the surface of the Earth, Gagarin uttered the famous word “Poyekhali!” which translates to “Let’s Go!”. The spacecraft reached orbit at 06:17 UTC, ten minutes after launch. The final stage of the rocket separated from the spacecraft ten seconds later.

Yuri Gagarin was having radio communication with the ground station when he was near Soviet territory. He crossed the Far Eastern end of Russia and reached the Northern Pacific Ocean at 06:21 UTC. He was constantly reporting the spacecraft and orbital parameters to the ground control.

Yuri Gagarin then diagonally crossed the Pacific Ocean and reached the night side of the Earth. He also lost direct audio communications with the ground control. At 07:00 UTC, Gagarin crossed the Strait of Magellan, the Southern Part of South America. When he passed over the South Atlantic Ocean, the sun rose again for him.

Yuri Gagarin's flight comomerated in the stamp of Moldova.

The Vostok-1 spacecraft was mostly automated and within one hour of launch, the automatic rocket systems brought the spacecraft to the required altitude and orientation for reentry to the Earth. The planned orbit of the spacecraft was designed in such a way that even if the reentry retrorocket systems failed, the spacecraft will reenter by natural orbital decay in 13 days.

However, the actual orbit decayed from the planned orbit, and the spacecraft would reenter naturally in 20 days. At 07:25 UTC, the retrofire systems operated when the spacecraft was above Western Africa. The reentry burn worked, but there was some problem.

The spacecraft consisted of two parts: The service module and the reentry module. The service module consisted of most supplies and fuel. Gagarin was living in the spherical reentry module. The service module had to be automatically separated from the reentry module at this point. However, a bunch of wires still connected the modules and failed to separate them.

This caused the module to gyrate and spin around. The wires finally broke when the spacecraft was above Egypt. The reentry caused Gagarin to experience strong g-forces up to 8 times the force of gravity. But Gagarin remained conscious and radioed “Everything is OK”.

Replica of Vostok-1 spacecraft on display in K. E. Tsiolkovsky Museum of the History of Cosmonautics.
Stolbovsky/CC BY 4.0/Source

When the spacecraft was seven kilometers above the ground in Russia, the ejection hatch of the spacecraft opened, and Gagarin was ejected two seconds later. Gagarin’s parachute opened at this time and he landed safely in his parachute at 08:05 UTC near Engles in Russia.

This spaceflight was a major milestone in science and technology, as well as in the history of mankind. In 2011, the United Nations declared April 12 as the International Day of Human Space Flight. It is celebrated as Cosmonautics Day in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

What was the most amazing thing about the first human spaceflight according to you? Type in the comments below.

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