Sunday, 22 July 2012

Spacemen of the world (I) – Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin

First man to be thrust into outer space to orbit round the earth - Yuri Gagarin of Russia

During the time when Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, (15th-16th Century Italian scientists, astronomers and others) gazed longingly into the sky, yearning to discover what was up there,  humans had not been able to fly. Till this day humans still literally cannot fly, but with those flying machines in aero planes and spacecrafts we could have our widest dreams come true.

Suave and handsome, Gagarin's smile attracted the attention of many female fans when he visited London on July 11th 1961

Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man on earth to go orbiting the earth in outer space back in 1961 on board the Vostok 1 spacecraft. After his famous feat as an epoch making hero, he was promoted to the rank of Lieut. Colonel and eventually Colonel in 1963. Gagarin helped vigorously in The Soviet Union’s advancement in aero space expeditions as a deputy training director of the Cosmonault Training Centre outside Moscow, which was named after him later. He was banned as back up crew to the Soyuz 1 space mission after it ended in a crash, killing his best friend Vladimir Komarov, despite Gagarin’s fore-warning that the space craft needed further safety measure. However ill-fate nailed him anyway as Yuri Gagarin was killed together with flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin in a MiG-15 fatal crash near the city of Kirzhach in 1968 as he went under training to re-qualify as a fighter pilot.

Stamps were issued to commemorate his adventurous flight into outer space

Gagarin basked in the fame for the success of the Soviet first manned spaced craft aboard the Vostok 1 during the many trips he made to some European cities, Japan, Brazil, Egypt, and Canada. He was very popular in Manchester and London with his endemic smile as he was mobbed and cheered on by frenzied crowds, particularly from the female fans. One of the masterminds of the early Soviet space program Sergei Korolev once commented that Gagarin’s endearing smile “lit up the Cold War”.

Yuri Gagarin waved to crowds when he visited Sweden.

Yuri Gagarin had his fair share of dark side as a celebrity; he was known to be a womanizer and an avid Vodka drinker in later life, but of course the Soviet Union authority denied all these negative reports. He was survived by two capable daughters and his wife Valentina. His elder daughter Elena is an art historian who works as a director-general in the Moscow Kremlin Museum. The younger daughter Galina Gagarin seats as department chair at Plekhanov Russian Economic University, Moscow.

New 2 ruble coin issued with his likeness in 2001
             Yuri Gagarin's statue as seen in London, near Admiralty

Tributes to Yuri Gagarin were many; The Soviet Union issued stamps and new coins bearing his likeness in 2001 and 2011, marking the 40th and 50 anniversary of his flight into outer space. Gagarin had been bestowed with countless honorary titles, military honors, honorable citizenships of cities round the world; names of sports leagues and towns were named after him, busts and statues were erected all over Russian cities to remember him. On July 20th 1969 American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 mission placed memorial bag of medals on the moon surface to commemorate Gagarin and his comrade cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. The Americans did that one more time in August 1st 1971 when astronauts David Scott and James Erwin of Apollo 15 left the “Fallen Astronauts” memorial insignia on moon surface to remember all the 15 spacemen and spacewomen who had sacrificed their lives in the “space race”. 

With his small built physique at 5'2", Gagarin fitted well in this capsule. While the spacecraft  Vostok 1 plummeted back to earth, at 20,000 ft he ejected, deployed his parachute and landed in the Saratov region of Russia.

Russia's arch-rival in aerospace expedition USA's NASA discovered huge amount of space chunks of breakage debris found orbiting the atmosphere; for which they claimed to be proof of Russian’s past multiple failures. It might be true to some extent; many aspiring cosmonauts had met with mishaps in outer space or during launching.  One must know at the time of prevalent Cold War, ubiquitous rivalry of any sort was riled that any adverse event would be classified as top national secret by the Soviet Union. Of course USA's space programs and missions had their fair share in failures too in the initial stage, as NASA suffered huge human life loss over a few incidents.

Alan CY Kok
Some facts were obtained from Wikipedia

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