Happy Birthday to the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin

С ДНЁМ РОЖДЕНИЯ, comrade Yuri Gagarin! I traveled with another space-man to Moscow a couple years ago to celebrate your achievements.

Archival video here at NASA.gov. Below, "The Columbus of The Cosmos" on BBC TV, July 11 1961.

Yuri: If you're looking around for that monument to you in London, they've just moved it.


  1. According to Wikipedia, Valentina Tereshkova’s birthday falls on March 6, so here’s a happy birthday to her too!

  2. The only piece of autograph memorabilia I have ever coveted (I don’t get the point of it, generally), was a signed photo of Yuri.

  3. Fun fact, Yuri, after going to space, and while his capsule was still falling to Earth, opened the door to his capsule *in mid-flight*, donned a parachute, and jumped out, completing his “flight” by parachuting to the ground. His capsule hit the ground at high speed. This was actually planned that way, as the Russians needed to get a man in to space ASAP to beat the Americans, and developing a safe landing system in the ship wasn’t feasible in the time allotted. So they went with the “bail out while still falling” method.
    The Russians kept this parachuting part a secret for decades, as “the rules” stated that you had to take off and land in the same vehicle. Bailing out to avoid being crushed during the crash landing wouldn’t have counted. NASA played it save and developed a working system, and lost “the race” by three months or so.

    1. In the long run it worked for NASA. The equipment proposed for soviet lunar surface operations looked totally undeveloped. There wouldn’t have been any ten kilometre drives across the countryside in a soviet lunar mission. And arguably it was only the brave decision to abandon Apollo which left NASA hitching a ride on Soyuz recently.

    2. The best part of that:

      “It was 280 km to the west of the planned landing site (near Baikonur).

      A farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!” “

      1. The rules come from the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale), which is “the world governing body for air sports and aeronautics and astronautics world records”. The relevant one is that the pilot had to remain in the aircraft – you couldn’t do a speed record and then jump out before landing.

        But it seems to me that this is just a case of “rules” not keeping up with reality at the time – can you really say someone has not been in space for four days (the longest Vostok mission)  just because he ejected? Armstrong & Aldrin could have been thought not to have landed on the moon according to the same rules as they apply to aeroplanes – after all, they landed in a completely different vehicle – a “lunar module” – which they entered in mid-flight,  not the spacecraft they took off and splashed down back on Earth in. I guess at the time of Gagarin’s flight all the FAI rules applied to aeroplanes; there was no space component.

        See http://www.fai.org/ : FAI Sporting Code – Section 2- Aeroplanes
        A flight is deemed to be uncompleted if; EITHER, an accident occurs during the flight resulting in the death of any member of the crew within 48 hours; or, any person leaves the aircraft during the flight; or, any part of the aircraft, its equipment, or payload is jettisoned during the flight performance.

        If that rule applied to spaceflights, then no flight with a moonwalk or spacewalk would count towards a record… kind of “while his capsule was still falling round Earth, he opened the door to his
        capsule *in mid-flight*, and jumped out”.

        All the six Vostok pilots ejected; only Gagarin was forced to claim he had landed in the spacecraft to satisfy the FAI (you’d think the Russians would just say – look, we went into space, we don’t care for your silly froggy so-called FAI rules about coconuts and sparrows). Gherman Titov, who orbited for a day in 1961, describes his ejection in his book I Am Eagle! (Gherman Titov and Martin Caidin, based on interviews with Wilfred Burchett and Anthony Purdy, Bobbs-Merrill, 1962 – so before all the Vostok programme was even finished). In the book his landing is uneventful and rather beautiful; but much later, including when I met him in 1998 in his home in Moscow while researching a project, he said it was harder; my notes at the time say “first he seemed to be headed right for a railway line, on which a train was passing – would he be the first to go 16 times round the world and then get ignominiously run over? Then the wind changed and he landed going backwards and was tripped up; he couldn’t release his parachute instantly and was dragged along the ground, scooping up soil in his open helmet.”

        Another FAI rule is that a new record has to exceed a previous one by some specified percentage; you can’t beat a 2000mph record by going at 2001mph. This makes sense in the case of limited-accuracy measurement devices; however, I think an issue turned up with long-duration flights on space stations where someone who had been in orbit for eg (I forget the exact numbers) 200 days held the record even if someone later had been in space 201 days.

        (edited for layout)

    3. Fun facts: he didn’t “climb out”, and he didn’t have to “open the door”. The hatch had pyro locks and he was ejected.

  4. Wouldn’t most people these days consider being called the ‘Columbus of something’ insulting?

    1.  Yes, since Columbus was actually about the third person or persons to “discover” America.

      1.  Hey, cool! I’d read about the incident, but never knew there was any footage of it.

        (One of the real prizes for model rocket collectors is a scale kit of the “Little Joe II,” a stubby little rocket that was used in the mid 60s to test the Apollo escape tower system. If the tower could peel the capsule off of the accelerating Little Joe, it could get it off of Saturn V on its ascent.)

  5. FWIW, one of the greatest instrumental jazz albums of all time, the breakout CD that put the Esbjörn Svensson Trio on the international map, bears the delightful title, FROM GAGARIN’S POINT OF VIEW.

  6. Really? I thought it well established by now that Vladimir Ilyushin was the first man in space… but his mission got botched in the rush and he landed in China, badly injured but still alive, to enormous chargrin of soviet authorities keen to appear incapable of failure both at home and abroad. Gagarin knew this and, being an essentially naive country kid he got torn by guilt, started drinking heavily and eventually became a liability threatening to tell the real story during his drunken binges… which bought him a one way ticket to an “airplane accident under mysterious circumstances.”

    1. I looked this up in wiki. Looks like the only place this is well established is inside your head.

    2. This is part of the Lost Cosmonauts conspiracy theory, and I won’t bother trying to debunk the whole thing.  I would merely point out that there are cheaper ways to assassinate people, accidents do happen, Ilyushin said nothing of this in the remaining 48 years of his life despite having more reasons and opportunities to confirm the story than Gagarin had to kill himself um go all blubbery, China covering for a Soviet failure makes no sense, the American government covering for a Soviet failure makes no sense, killing Gagarin but not Ilyushin makes no sense, the “guilty man” story sounds like a version of Grigori Nelyubov’s removal from the astronaut program and eventual depression and alcoholism followed by suicide.  The Nelyubov story is factual, and the Soviet Union really did airbrush him out of official history, but airbrushing men out of photographs is quite different from carrying out a successful Illuminati-style cover up.

      But then again, that’s exactly what THEY want us to think…

      Edit: It must be late, somehow I wrote that Gagarin offed himself in the conspiracy theory. Derp.

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