What Really Happened to Yuri Gagarin, the First Man in Space?

What Really Happened to Yuri Gagarin, the First man in Space? Advertisement By: Nathan Chandler  | Updated: Feb 5, 2021 There have been a lot of groundbreaking firsts in human history, but only one person can claim to be the first in outer space. That’s Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut who breached Earth’s atmosphere and zipped […]

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What Really Happen to Yur Gagarn, the Frst Man n Space?

By: Nathan Chandler
 | 

There have been a lot of groundbreakng frsts n human , but only one person can clam to be the frst n outer space. That’s Yur Gagarn, a Soviet cosmonaut who breach Earth’s atmosphere and zpp nto orbt n 1961.

There have been a lot of groundbreakng frsts n human , but only one person can clam to be the frst n outer space. That’s Yur Gagarn, a Soviet cosmonaut who breach Earth’s atmosphere and zpp nto orbt n 1961.

He stood just 5 feet, 2 nches (1.57 meters). But n the lore of space exploraton, Gagarn casts an enormously long shadow. n both lfe and dh, he left a legacy brmmng wth both outstandng achevements … and unanswer questons.

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Born n 1934 n Klushno, near Moscow, Gagarn was the son of a carpenter and a mlkmad. When he was stll a chld, Naz forces nvad the U.S.S.R. and occup the town. Everyone suffer – two of hs sblngs wound up n labor camps but survv the war.

Later, Gagarn attend varous techncal schools, but t was a flying club n Saratov that really grabb hs . Once he had hs frst taste of flght, he embrac hs new passon and us hs weekends learnng to fly.

He jon the Sovet Ar Force and became a full-flg fghter plot, ganng profcency on planes lke the MG-15. n the meantme, he marr Valentna Goryacheva, wth whom he had two daughters.

n 1960, Sovet authortes chose 20 men to take part n the country’s flglng space program. The commsson specf that the men be between 25 and 30 years old and less than 5 feet, 7 nches (1.57 meters) tall. Gagarn check both boxes, and he was one of the lucky canddates sele for further tranng.

Then began rgorous physcal tranng, whch nclud dozens of parachute jumps over water, oxygen starvaton tests, and solaton chamber procures meant to we out anyone who mght melt down psychologcally n space. Though the process was compettve, Gagarn stood out both for hs physcal sklls and hs exceptonal personalty.

He was charsmatc, competent and smply lkable, n part because of the ever-pre smle on hs face. Hs postve aura was a large part of why he was ultmately chosen for the Vostok 1 msson, just one week before launch. The Sovets knew that ther soon-to-be-famous cosmonaut would ne to look good n front of a camera for propaganda purposes. Gagarn’s beamng smle ft the bll.

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On Aprl 12, 1961, the rocket lft off from Bakonur Cosmodrome. Just mnutes later, the former farm boy was the frst human n space.

“Gagarn was very charsmatc and well lk wthn the cosmonaut corps,” says Howard McCurdy, a space polcy expert and publc affars professor at Amercan Unversty. “He was apparently fearless. Whle [Serge] Korolev, the chef spaceflght engneer, was poppng tranqulzers, Gagarn was sttng calmly n the capsule.”

n 1961, very lttle was known about spaceflght and what would happen to a human who was n weghtlessness for longer than a few seconds. So there was a lot rdng on ths. Gagarn orbt our planet just a sngle tme (108 mnutes). He reach a maxmum height of 203 miles (327 klometers). Durng the flght, he ate, drank and monitored the onboard systems.

“Gagarn had no control over hs spacecraft,” says McCurdy. “Accordng to sources at NASA, flght controllers gave Gagarn a key to the controls for use n an emergency, whch he dd not use. Otherwse, he was just a passenger on the spacecraft.”

Gagarn’s return to Earth wasn’t the tdy sort of splashdown that we’re us to wtnessng these days. nstead, t was lke somethng dream up by scrptwrters for a “Msson: mpossble” move.

“Gagarn dd not land wth hs Vostok space capsule,” says McCurdy. “He jump out of t and parachut to the ground. Sort of a har-rasng way to land.”

Even before he land, the Sovets were trumpetng the tralblazng spaceflght. Hs safe return guarante worldwde celebrty.

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Streets were nam for hm, and he was award the ttle of Hero of the Soviet Union by Nikita Khrushchev. Some call hm the modern-day Chrstopher Columbus. He travel the world, lvng proof of the success of the Sovet space program.

The celebrty cosmonaut vst dozens of countres n celebraton of hs ncrble spaceflght – but he was barr from enterng the Unt States. Presdent John F. Kennedy wanted no part of celebratng the Sovet Unon’s accomplshment, whch cast the U.S. as left behnd n the Space Race.

Once hs publcty tour end, he slowly return to flyng. The ar force promot hm multple tmes, n large part to keep hm out of arplanes and safely on the ground; no one want ther nternatonal superstar to de young.

Yet, hs bout wth fame was unsettlng. Gagarn took to drnkng heavly, whch concern hs superors.

Stll, he tran for space, and was nam a backup for the Soyuz 1 msson. Gagarn’s good fortune held – the 1967 msson fal catastrophcally when the landng module’s parachute fal to open, endng wth the frst n-flght spacecraft fatalty, Vladmr Komarov.

Gagarn gave up drnkng the next year. He recommtt hmself to flyng, and even partcpat n aerospace engneerng n hopes of helpng to cre a spacecraft. n 1968, the fam plot and cosmonaut took off on a routne tranng flght n a MG-15UT. Shortly thereafter, the plane c near the town of Krzhach. Both Gagarn and flght nstruor Vladmr Seryogn persh. Gagarn was just 32.

mmately, the Sovets rush to gloss over the ncdent, coverng up detals of the ncdent for decades. Lackng convncng explanatons, conspiracy theories abounded – but none of them stuck.

n 2013, new evidence emerg thanks to the nvestgatve work of Alexe Leonov, a former cosmonaut who was troubl by the dh of hs frend and fellow space traveler.

Hs (unconfrm) explanaton for the c? An error n ar traffc control. Durng the fateful flght, a Sovet Su-15, a model much larger than the hero’s MG-15, violated Gagarin’s airspace. The turbulence caus Gagarn to lose control and ultmately plunge to hs dh.

Perhaps the embarrassment of losng a natonal con to such a smple error was too much to admt publcly. Or maybe, as Leonov speculated, the authortes ddn’t want to make publc that there was “a lapse” so close to Moscow. We may never know for sure. What we do know s that Gagarn’s frst and only space msson left an ndelble mark on our world.

“People had been dreamng of flyng n the ar for mllenna before the Wrght Brothers achev that n 1903,” says Amy Foster, assstant professor at the Unversty of Central Florda, va emal.

“The dea of humans flyng n space was even more lofty. Whle both the Unt States and the Sovet Unon had successfully launch lvng crures by the tme of Gagarn’s flght, there were stll questons about how the msson would affe a human. So, Gagarn’s flght made flyng n space not only achevable, but also a realstc endeavor.”

Gagarn’s fnal words before takeoff on that frst flght nto space were “Poyekhal!” or “Let’s go!” The phrase became a common one n Russan speech, thanks to the cosmonaut.

Orgnally Publsh: Nov 9, 2020

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What Really Happen to Yur Gagarn, the Frst Man n Space?


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