12th April marks the 50th anniversary of the first human to be sent into space. (And of the first Space Shuttle launch 20 years later).
A 27 year old Soviet Air Force pilot, Yuri Gagarin, who had the 'Right Stuff', the bravery, the fighter pilot background, the ability to resist the tortuous training (which killed some other would be Cosmonauts in accidents), not too tall for the confines of the Vostok capsule and finally, though out of his control, a very humble background that appealed to the then Soviet leader.
The enabler was the genius rocket designer and driving forces through the treacherous terrain of the USSR
political/military/industrial complex, Korolev.
Who had been nearly killed, not like the young Gagarin, by the Nazi invaders, but prior to that by Stalin's insane purges.
In truth, Gagarin was not much of a 'pilot' for his mission, but then that was a complaint his US Counterparts also had, he was a human experiment, even with the dogs, monkeys other creatures launched into space, would a human really
be able to cope, physically or mentally?
Serious people asked these questions.
Gagarin proved their concerns misplaced, his inevitable fame/use for propaganda, after his flight showed him very much in one piece with his faculties intact.
Though as usually happened, this fame did later start to get to him, however he was to recover and work to return to spaceflight status.
Like Glenn, like Armstrong later, he was not likely ever to fly in space again however he tried, which made his death in a training aircraft in 1968 all the more tragic and futile.
Had Gagarin not been first, had the sub-orbital flight of Al Shepherd beat Gagarin's orbital flight, it's unlikely that JFK
would have had the political and strategic impetus to commit to the Apollo Program.
But then great explorations rarely start from pure altruism, Columbus and others were not dispatched to find out about interesting stuff.
A piece here, the journalist as a young boy caught a glimpse of Gagarin on his UK tour;
For UK members, BBC4 has a night of space related programming 10th April, related features;
These people have done a graphic novel about Gagarin;
http://www.yuri-gagarin.com/[Edited 2011-04-10 10:59:04]
[Edited 2011-04-10 10:59:44]