108 Minutes, and Step Into Eternity

108 Minutes, and Step Into Eternity

Photo: https://combat.spb.ru/

Baikonur Cosmodrome. Wednesday, April 12, 1961. This is how Yuri Gagarin later recalled that day in his book "Road to the Starts": "The sky seemed clear. Only far away, pearl-colored clouds glowed. I was looking at the rocket that was to take me on an unprecedented flight.

"It was beautiful, more beautiful than a locomotive, a steamboat, an airplane, palaces, and bridges have taken all together. I thought that this beauty was eternal and would remain for people of all nations for all time to come. Not only a remarkable masterpiece of technology but also an impressive work of art was in front of me.

“I felt a surge of energy. With my whole being, I was mesmerized by the music of nature. The quiet rustle of the grass was replaced by the noise of the wind, which was absorbed by the rumble of the waves hitting the shore during the storm. This music, sounded in me, reflected the whole range of complex experiences, gave birth to some unusual words that I have never used before in everyday speech," Gagarin wrote in the book sharing his memories.

Here is a timeline of the historic launch, Moscow time.

3:30 a.m.

Yuri Gagarin and his colleague Gherman Titov wake up and have breakfast.

6:50 a.m.

Bus with Gagarin and Titov arrives at the launch pad.

6:52 a.m.

Yuri Gagarin reports to Sergei Korolev that he is ready for launching.

7:10 a.m.

Gagarin takes his place in the cockpit and begins to check the systems of the spacecraft and the spacesuit.

8:30 a.m.

30-minute readiness is announced. Titov is allowed to take off the spacesuit and go to the observation point.

9:00 a.m.

Medical data on Yuri Gagarin is recorded. One-minute standby is declared.

9:06 a.m.

"The key to the start!" the command is given.

9:07 a.m.

Commands: "Start! Liftoff! Up!"

"Poyekhali ("Let's go!")!" says Gagarin.

For many years, a lot of evidence of the historic flight was a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's flight, Roscosmos and the Russian Ministry of Defense posted a significant amount of new information on their websites. Technical reports and transcripts of Yuri Gagarin's communication with the Earth, which have been declassified, give access to several hitherto unknown pages of this world-famous event.

Today, following Gagarin's rules of life, it should be honestly admitted that there were a lot of various problems on the first flight. For example, about two hours before takeoff, the indicator of the tightness of the ship's entrance hatch did not work. On the instructions of Korolev, the hatch was promptly opened, and 32 nuts were loosened in no time. The malfunction was found, and the hatch was closed again.

At first, the Vostok insertion into orbit went smoothly. However, at one moment, the command to switch off the engine of the rocket's central unit came from Earth half a second late. As a result, the ship was in an uncalculated orbit.

Quite annoying little things happened during the flight. Gagarin wrote down all his thoughts in pencil on sheets of notebook and onboard tape recorder. However, it did not last long as in zero gravity the pencil floated away from him and the tape on the tape recorder quickly ran out. Interestingly, nowadays, astronauts working in zero gravity keep their writing utensils attached with sticky tape.

Finally, the orbit ejection. There were also unpleasant surprises. The braking engine did not deliver its full impulse, so the aircraft took a slower trajectory downwards. The landing was with a deviation of about 200 km.

At all times it is difficult and risky to be a pioneer. The designers of space technology and Yuri Gagarin were paving the way to the stars by an unexplored path. Errors and failures on such a thorny path were inevitable. However, they do not devalue the significance of the historical event that took place 60 years ago. It also should be recalled that Russia made a breakthrough into space only 16 years after the end of the Second World War, the most devastating war in human history.

Here is a chronicle of the Vostok spacecraft landing.

10:35 a.m. Detachment of instrument compartment. The orbit ejection is continuing.

10:36 a.m.

Entry into the atmosphere. СОmmunication failure.

10:42 a.m.

At a 7 km altitude, the hatch cover blew off. Yuri Gagarin, together with his chair, catapulted out of the Vostok-1 descent vehicle.

10:43 a.m.

At an altitude of 4 km, the main parachute was automatically deployed. As a result, Yuri Gagarin was pulled from his chair. At the same time, the portable emergency reserve, which contained a radio station, radio direction finder, first-aid kit, and food reserve, broke off and was lost.

10:49 a.m.

The Vostok 1 reentry vehicle landed on a parachute.

10:55 a.m.

Yuri Gagarin touched the ground after ejection from the descent vehicle.

This is the place where Yuri Gagarin landed on April 12, 1961.

Today, spacemen, just like ordinary people, have their own traditions, omens, and even superstitions. Some of them have been preserved since Gagarin's time.

On the eve of takeoff, April 11, 1961, in the early morning, the rocket was taken to the launch pad. During the day, all the tests of the launch vehicle and the spacecraft, prescribed by the instructions, were carried out. Almost everyone responsible for the system, before signing the logbook whispered: "Keep your fingers crossed, no remarks!”

Then there was a meeting of Yuri Gagarin with the soldiers, sergeants, and officers of the combat unit. Sergei Korolev insisted on this meeting, which later became a good tradition for all astronauts going into space.

More than once I had a chance to be in the so-called Marshal's Lodge, where Marshal Nedelin used to stay. Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov also spent the night here before the start. Before going to the launch site they left their autographs on the door. Since then spacemen always visit this cabin and sign on the doors of the hotel, where they live during the pre-launch preparation at Baikonur.

This is something I haven't seen myself, but I've heard about it more than once. Over breakfast, the cosmonauts take a sip of champagne for good luck. The backup crew drinks something a little stronger.

Once, when it was not even allowed to talk about it in a whisper, I was lucky to observe one very intimate Gagarin’s tradition. Before the last turn onto the launch pad, the bus with the cosmonauts stops for a few minutes, and they relieve themselves on the right rear wheel of the bus. "It's not just an omen," Anatoly Solovyov, my old comrade and cosmonaut pilot, once said. “We put on our spacesuits a few hours before takeoff. So, we need to free our bodies from anything that might distract us at the crucial moment of taking off."

Several years ago, I was lucky to visit the site of Yuri Gagarin's landing in the Saratov region, near the town of Engels. Next to the monument to Yuri Gagarin the capsule of the Foton spacecraft was installed. The Vostok capsule is now stored in the museum of the PAO S. P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia. Standing on the "Gagarin's field" I remembered the remarkable words of Gagarin: "When I flew around the Earth in the satellite craft I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us cherish and increase this beauty but not destroy it.” So let us follow the testament of Yuri Gagarin, a man of the great mark!

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