Yuri Gagarin – biography
Gagarin was the first cosmonaut of the USSR and the world, a symbol of the development of Soviet aviation and science in general, a man who forever inscribed his name in the history of space exploration.
The name of Yuri Gagarin has been familiar to everyone since childhood. He was the first person alive on Earth to go into space. The famous pilot-cosmonaut became a legend and a role model not only for Soviet citizens, but also for many residents of other countries. After his flight into space, Gagarin was actively involved in international social activities.
Yuri Gagarin was born in a small village near Smolensk, Klushino. It happened in 1934, on March 9. Yuri’s parents were prosperous peasants. The Gagarins’ family had many children. Yuri had two brothers – the older Valentin and younger Boris, and an older sister Zoya. Yuri’s father, Alexei Ivanovich, loved to make various handicrafts from wood and taught this skill to his children.
At the age of six, Gagarin went to school. The boy had studied just a year, when the Great Patriotic War broke out. The fascists captured many Soviet cities and villages, including Klushino. That is why little Yura had to forget about further school education. When Gagarin grew up and became famous, he preferred not to remember the hard time of occupation. When the fascists were retreating, they took Zoya and Valentina Gagarin to Germany. Fortunately, they managed to return from there alive.
The village where the Gagarins lived was liberated in 1943. When the war ended, the Gagarins moved to Gzhatsk. There the boy continued his studies. The boy was very inquisitive and capable. He had a lot of hobbies, such as photography, music, etc.
After finishing the sixth grade, Yura decided to move to the capital, where there were many more opportunities for his further development. The parents of the young man were not too happy with such a decision and tried to dissuade him, but Yuri did not change his mind and at the age of fifteen he moved to Moscow.
The teenager settled with relatives in the capital and enrolled in a trade school. At the same time, he studied at the Moscow Working Youth School, already in the seventh grade.
At this time he began playing basketball, soon becoming captain of the team. A few years later Gagarin moved to Saratov, enrolling in the local industrial technical school.
In Saratov, Yuri first found himself in an amateur aviation club. The club read the reports of the people who became the founders of astronautics. After first becoming acquainted with Tsiolkovsky’s calculations, the young man fell in love with the sky and decided to tie his life to aviation.
Having graduated from the technical school, Yuri already had a few flights on a small training plane under his belt. A couple of months after graduation, Gagarin was drafted into the Chkalov military aviation school to serve in the army. During his studies Yuri had a conflict with his classmates that nearly ended tragically. Gagarin was an assistant platoon commander. He was very strict about discipline and some classmates did not like this state of affairs. They decided to teach the young man a lesson and severely beat him up at night. As a result, Yuri ended up in the hospital, where he had to spend a whole month. When he returned to duty, he remained as strict and demanding as he was before the beating. The hooligans did not succeed in breaking the morale of the future cosmonaut.
During his studies Gagarin managed to cope successfully with all the tasks, except landing an airplane. The aircraft piloted by the cadet always “blew its nose”. The school imposed extremely strict requirements on the students, so they decided to expel Gagarin.
Yuri was incredibly upset by this decision, as he could no longer imagine his life without the sky. Fortunately the head of the flying school who kept trying to understand why his best cadet could not learn how to land the plane suggested that the failures were caused by the young man’s small stature. Yuri was given one last chance, and the young man brilliantly made it happen. He learned to land the plane after the pilot’s seat was lined with a pad which allowed him to increase the angle of view.
After graduating from the flying school in 1957 Gagarin went to Murmansk region for further service.
In 1959 Gagarin was promoted to the rank of senior lieutenant. At the same time he became a military pilot of the first class. At the same time the process of selecting candidates for the first group of astronauts began. On learning about this, Yuri Alekseyevich immediately filed a report, in which he expressed a request to enroll him in this squadron.
The main criterion for the selection of applicants was not their merits or skills, but their physical data. The first spaceships had significant limitations on carrying capacity and size. This time, the small stature that nearly got Yuri expelled from the school served him well. He was one of the factors that eventually approved the young officer’s application for enrollment in the cosmonaut corps.
Yuri Gagarin became one of the twenty members of the cosmonaut team. He began training in the spring of 1960.
There was the toughest competition in the squadron. Despite this, Yuri was universally loved. Friendly, strong, reliable young man did not feel jealous of anyone, he worked hard and easily took the initiative. He adored the sky and gave himself wholeheartedly to his studies. When the squadron conducted an anonymous poll on who was most suitable for the very first flight into space, most people named Gagarin. Although Yuri was not a leader in any discipline, his combination of mental toughness, character traits, and skill set made him the best fit for spaceflight.
The USSR was in constant competition with the United States to see who would be the first to go into space. In 1961, it was decided to urgently select a suitable candidate and to launch the spacecraft no later than April. It was reported that the Americans were planning to launch a man into space on April 20, so it was important to get ahead of them. Of the three candidates, Gagarin was chosen as the main contender. His understudy was appointed by the command, German Titov.
What exactly played a decisive role in this decision of Sergei Korolev is unknown. Disputes on this subject do not cease even today. There was a note in Korolev’s notes that Titov was better prepared than Gagarin. Perhaps the political factor was decisive in this question. Everyone understood that the first cosmonaut would become a symbol of this greatest achievement of the USSR. Yuri, who had a classic Slavic appearance and an ideal biography of his whole family, was more suitable for the role of such a symbol than Titov. According to another theory, Titov was more important to the project than Gagarin, so Korolev did not want to risk him. The General Designer planned to send him on another, longer flight, which would have lasted a full day.
Yuri’s mother recalled that before making his decision, Korolev had held an unofficial exam, which Yuri passed better than all the other applicants.
The five candidates had similar physical parameters, similar military ranks, and similar levels of training. However, in the personal conversations that Korolev had with each candidate, Gagarin proved himself to be the most honest, decent and open-minded person. The other candidates said the training was perfect, while Yuri was not shy about talking about his problems as well. It was very important for the Queen to know after the flight what kind of problems the cosmonaut had during the flight, so he chose Gagarin.
Some researchers argue that Gagarin was not the first cosmonaut at all. According to them, during the suborbital flight in 1957 the pilot Ledovskikh, who should be considered the first cosmonaut, died. After him, pilots Shaborin and Mitkov were in orbit, who also died. Whether this information is true is unknown. An article with such information was published in 1993 in the publication “Air Transport”. The space industry workers did not refute it.
The first space flight
The flight to space on the Soviet Vostok spacecraft was associated with very high risks. The launch of the spacecraft was prepared in great haste. Many important systems of the ship were not duplicated. The ship did not have a soft landing system, nor an emergency rescue system. Therefore, the chance that the cosmonaut would die before the rocket was launched was extremely high.
On April 12, the spacecraft took off from the Soviet Baikonur Cosmodrome. During launch, there were serious malfunctions with the craft’s equipment, so it climbed a hundred kilometers higher than originally planned. Had the braking system malfunctioned, the ship would have been coming back for over a month, whereas food and water were only stored for ten days.
Although there were many problems, Gagarin managed to return safely to Earth. The spacecraft landed with a deviation from the pre-planned location. The cosmonaut was taken to the nearest settlement. From there he contacted his superiors by phone, reporting about the successful landing. The flight was top secret. That is why even representatives of the Soviet press learned about this grand event only the next day.
When the flight of Gagarin became known to the masses, the astronaut immediately became a global star. A great contribution to this contributed Khrushchev, who insisted that in honor of the cosmonaut held a grand celebration. It took place one day after the flight.
A month later, the cosmonaut went on a tour of more than twenty countries with the Peace Mission. During this trip, the cosmonaut displayed personal charisma, establishing himself as a charming, tactful young man. This reinforced a positive image of the Soviet Union.
During the next few years Gagarin was mainly engaged in social activities, practically leaving his flying service. He made a tangible contribution to the process of popularization of cosmonautics, he dreamed of being a part of the lunar space crew. Having received the rank of major, he enrolled in the Air Force Academy of Engineering. A month after graduating from the academy Yuri Gagarin died.
The private life of the first cosmonaut was happy and unclouded. Yuri Gagarin met his future wife before he became a member of the cosmonaut corps. Valentina Goryacheva was a doctor, she was an employee of the Mission Control Center. In 1959 they had a daughter, Lena, and a month before Yuri`s flight in space they had their second daughter, Galya. Yuri adored his daughters. Like them, he loved animals. There were chickens, ducks, a doe and a squirrel in the cosmonaut’s house. Valentina at first was unhappy with this zoo hobby, but later put up with it.
As adults, the Gagarins’ daughters gave their mother two grandchildren. Elena gave birth to her daughter Ekaterina, and Galya gave birth to her son Yuri. Catherine later became an art historian. Yuri decided to relate his biography to state administration. After the death of her husband, Valentina Gagarina never married again.
Yuri Gagarin died in the spring of 1968. On March 27, he was performing a training flight together with his instructor Vladimir Seregin. Their plane failed to get out of the maneuver, as a result the pilots died. Their bodies were cremated and the urns with the pilots’ ashes were buried in the Kremlin wall.
The exact causes of the pilots’ deaths are unknown. Perhaps the tragedy was caused by another plane dangerously approaching their car, which dodged a collision at the last moment. Because of this, Gagarin’s plane could have gone into a spin. Pilots who had incorrect information about the weather conditions might not have had time to bring the airplane out of the spin. Since the time elapsed since the death of the first astronaut, it has been impossible to determine the truth.
Because of the lack of facts and official explanations, there are many theories and speculations about the cause of Gagarin’s tragic death. According to one of these, the cosmonaut had a conflict with the leadership, which resulted in his “removal”. There are also rumors that Gagarin was arrested, and his death is a fabrication. Some are convinced that the first cosmonaut personally faked his death, after which he secretly left the country. According to another theory, Yuri Alekseyevich died while testing a new spacecraft, and the training flight was reported to deflect attention from the failure of the space program.
Several years ago Alexey Leonov, another famous cosmonaut, told the press that the cause of Seryogin’s and Gagarin’s death was an airplane that suddenly appeared near their car and drove it into a spiral with its airflow. The pilots did not have time to pull their aircraft out of the fall, which resulted in their tragic deaths.
Some interesting facts:
- TASS had prepared three different reports before Gagarin’s flight just in case – about the successful flight, about the unsuccessful one, and about the cosmonaut landing outside the Soviet Union, on the territory of one of the foreign countries.
- The phrase “Let’s go!”, which has become legendary, is a quote from Dickens.
- During the flight, Gagarin had the call sign “Cedar”.
- The British Queen, who had invited her to tea, rudely broke protocol by having her picture taken with Gagarin. She explained her action by the fact that Gagarin is now a heavenly and not an earthly man, so there is no violation in making a joint photo with him.