Yuri Gagarin, 12 April 1961: “I come from outer space!” (1)
By Théo Pirard
I saw a woman and a girl who were standing near a spotted calf
and who were watching me with bewilderment.
"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 like you,
Two years in development
The URSS's first two Sputniks, or "man-made moons" had opened the road to the stars from the end of 1957. In 1959 the Soviet Union Communist Party authorised the Kremlin to fund a programme of manned space flights. Korolev's team who developed the Sputniks and their launchers, the Semyorka rockets, designed and oversaw the building of the Vostok, which had a spherical re-entry capsule, christened Sharik. This configuration, which was difficult to complete, given its diameter of 2.3 m and mass of 2.4 tonnes, allowed an aerodynamic re-entry into the atmosphere: no need for a complex stabilisation system which might break down. But this re-entry led to a strong deceleration of around 8 g, with the cosmonaut having to endure a force of 8 times his body weight for a few minutes. In the capsule, in addition to a portholes, three circular openings were fitted out: the access hatch through which the cosmonaut took his place in the cabin, the hatch for the ejector seat, the parachute container. The cosmonaut did not re board the space craft but ejected at an altitude of around 7000 metres. This procedure, which offered great security, was an issue for the International Aeronautical Federation: to be recognised, a flight, even a space flight, requires that the pilot remain aboard his vessel until landing.