60 years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth in space

JDon F. Kennedy at his regular press conference in Washington on April 12: “We expected that because of the progress they had made in developing engines, the Soviets would be the first to enter space where they were before us,” he answered, when asked how he thinks about the news coming from Moscow that astonished and astonished the world in That day, the United States prefers to seek leadership in other scientific fields that, in the long term, will be of greater benefit to humanity.

In strict secrecy, as is usual in the Russian space program, the Soviets in the morning were able to send 27-year-old Yuri Alexjwich Gagarin around Earth in an elliptical orbit in 108 minutes and allow him to land safely. During the trip, Gagarin reported via radio link about the sight of the Earth and his experience of weightlessness – and thus not only put his countrymen in a state of euphoria, who were stopped by the national radio broadcasts and public speakers about the historical event, everything stood and to celebrate the achievement on the streets. The flight was hailed and admired across the world as a milestone in human history, although the event promptly gave rise to political propaganda on the part of communist countries. For example, Walter Ulbricht indicated in his congratulatory letter to Russian Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev that the trip shows the whole world that socialism must triumph over yesterday’s crumbling regimes. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union itself stated in its solemn statement that this historic achievement embodies the genius of the Soviet people and the powerful strength of socialism. Khrushchev also gave a new name to Gagarin: in contrast to the American astronauts, he was referred to in the Russian public as an astronaut.

The rocket launched by Gagarin into space.


The rocket launched by Gagarin into space.
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Photo: DPA

The Russian’s success was less shocking on the American side than it was three and a half years ago when the first Sputnik 1 satellite was launched into Earth orbit on October 4, 1957. However, the disappointment was great. The Redstone rocket, which was to send the first American into space shortly thereafter as part of the Mercury program with Alan Shepard, was already ready at Cape Canaveral. Both the technicians and engineers involved and the Mercury astronauts hoped to outpace the Russians this time. However, America’s transparent information strategy of sharing timelines and progress with the public has proven unfavorable compared to the covertly working Russians, who can adjust their plans accordingly.

The search for a suitable candidate began in 1959

The idea of ​​sending a man into space with a multi-stage rocket was officially pursued in the USSR from the end of 1958 under the leadership of aerospace engineer Sergey Pavlovich Korolev. The first Russian ICBM R-7 was to be used for this purpose, which had already carried the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and is still in use today as a Soyuz missile with only minor changes. The search for suitable candidates from among the ranks of combat pilots of the Russian Air Force began already in 1959: initially on the basis of medical data, with suitable candidates no more than 30 years old and no more than 170 cm tall. Then in another GMVK vetted round of a government commission, the political and personal aspects were chosen into consideration. This resulted in a group of twenty candidates at the end of 1959, who began their training in March 1960 at the Northeast Moscow Training Center, now known as “Star City”, which is still used for space training. The site was chosen, among other things, because of its hidden location in a dense forest. Soon six men were selected from among these twenty and given preferential training. At the end of January 1961, this group was reduced to three, subject to stringent tests: Yuri Gagarin, German Titov and Gregory Niliobo.

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