Yuri Gagarin was born in a village of Klushino near Gzhatsk (now in Smolensk Oblast), Russia, on 9 March 1934. The adjacent town of Gzhatsk was renamed Gagarin in 1968 in his honor. His parents worked on a collective farm. While manual laborers are described in official reports as "peasants", this may be an oversimplification if applied to his parents — his mother was reportedly a voracious reader, and his father a skilled carpenter. Yuri was the third of four children, and his elder sister helped raise him while his parents worked. Like millions of people in the Soviet Union, the Gagarin family suffered great hardship in World War II. His two elder siblings were "taken away" to Germany, as slave laborers, in 1943, and did not return until after the war. His teachers described Gagarin as intelligent and hard-working, if occasionally mischievous. His mathematics and science teacher had flown in the Soviet Air Forces during the war, which presumably made some substantial impression on young Gagarin.
After starting an apprenticeship in a metalworks as a foundryman, Gagarin was selected for further training at a high technical school in Saratov. While there, he joined the "AeroClub", and learned to fly a light aircraft, a hobby that would take up an increasing proportion of his time. Through dint of effort, rather than brilliance, he reportedly mastered both; in 1955, after completing his technical schooling, he entered military flight training at the Orenburg Pilot's School. While there he met Valentina Goryacheva, whom he married in 1957, after gaining his pilot's wings in a MiG-15. Post-graduation, he was assigned to Luostari airbase in Murmansk Oblast, close to the Norwegian border, where terrible weather made flying risky. As a full-grown man, Gagarin was 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m) tall, which was an advantage in the small Vostok cockpit.
Selection and training
In 1960, after an extensive search and selection process Yuri Gagarin was selected with 19 other cosmonauts for the Soviet space program. Along with the other prospective cosmonauts, he had been subjected to a punishing series of experiments designed to test his physical and psychological endurance, as well as being trained for the upcoming flight. Out of the twenty selected, the eventual choices for the first launch were Gagarin and Gherman Titov, because of their excellent performance in training, as well as their physical characteristics — space was at a premium in the small Vostok cockpit. Gagarin's last-minute assignment, approved at the highest levels of the CPSU, to take the historic flight, may have been due to Gagarin's modest upbringing and genial, outgoing personality, as opposed to the middle-class and somewhat aloof demeanor of Titov. Soviet officials weighed other factors as well in selecting Yuri: his appearance, his capacity to handle media attention, his Russian heritage and even the name "Gagarin," which was also a family name associated with Tsarist aristocracy.
On 12 April 1961, Gagarin became the first human to travel into space in Vostok 3KA-2 (Vostok 1). His call sign in this flight was Kedr (Cedar) (Russian: Кедр). During his flight, Gagarin famously whistled the tune "The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows" (Russian: "Родина слышит, Родина знает"). The first two lines of the song are: "The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows/Where her son flies in the sky". This patriotic song was written by Dmitri Shostakovich in 1951 (opus 86), with words by Yevgeniy Dolmatovsky.
There are speculations in the media that from orbit Gagarin made the comment, "I don't see any God up here." There are, however, no such words in the full verbatim record of Gagarin's conversations with the Earth during the spaceflight. In a 2006 interview a close friend of Gagarin, colonel Valentin Petrov, stated that Gagarin never said such words, and that the phrase originated from Nikita Khrushchev's speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, where the antireligious propaganda was discussed. In a certain context Khrushchev said, "Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any God there". As Gagarin was a great people's favorite at the time, Khrushchev's words were soon attributed to Gagarin for them to be more effective.
While in orbit Gagarin was promoted "in the field" from the lowly rank of Senior Lieutenant to Major — and this was the rank at which TASS announced him in its triumphant statement during the flight.
Gagarin being safely returned, Nikita Khrushchev rushed to his side and Gagarin issued a statement praising the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as the "organiser of all our victories". Khrushchev saw Gagarin's achievement as a vindication of his policy of strengthening the Soviet Union's missile forces at the expense of conventional arms. This policy antagonized the Soviet military establishment and contributed to Khrushchev's eventual downfall.
After the flight, Gagarin became an instant, worldwide celebrity, touring widely with appearances in Italy, Germany, Canada, and Japan to promote the Soviet achievement.
In 1962, he began serving as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet. He later returned to "Star City", the cosmonaut facility, where he worked on designs for a reusable spacecraft.
Death and legacy
Gagarin then became deputy training director of Star City. At the same time, he began to requalify as a fighter pilot. On 27 March 1968, he and his instructor died in a MiG-15UTI on a routine training flight near Kirzhach. It is not certain what caused the crash, but a 1986 inquest suggests that the turbulence from a Su-11 'Fishpot-C' interceptor using its afterburners may have caused Gagarin's plane to go out of control. Weather conditions were also poor, which probably contributed to the inability of Gagarin and the instructor to correct before they crashed.
In his book "Two Sides of the Moon" Alexei Leonov recounts that he was flying a helicopter in the same area that day when he heard "two loud booms in the distance". Corroborating the above hypothesis, his conclusion is that a Sukhoi jet (which he identifies as a Su-15 'Flagon'), flying below its minimum allowed altitude, "without realizing it because of the terrible weather conditions, passed within 10 or 20 meters of Yuri and Seregin's plane while breaking the sound barrier". The resulting turbulence would have sent the MiG into an uncontrolled spin. Leonov believes the first boom he heard was that of the jet breaking the sound barrier, and the second was Gagarin's plane crashing.
A new theory, advanced by the original crash investigator in 2005, hypothesises that a cabin vent was accidentally left open by the crew or the previous pilot, thus leading to oxygen deprivation and leaving the crew incapable of controlling the aircraft.
There were two commemorative coins issued in the Soviet Union to commemorate 20th and 30th anniversaries of his flight: 1 ruble coin (1981, copper-nickel) and 3 ruble coin (1991, silver). In 2001, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, a series of four coins bearing his likeness was issued in Russia: 2 ruble coin (copper-nickel), 3 ruble coin (silver), 10 ruble coin (brass-copper, nickel), 100 ruble coin (silver).
Gagarin is buried next to Seregin in the walls of the Kremlin on Red Square.
On 12 April 2007, the Kremlin vetoed a new investigation into the death of Gagarin. Some experts who had been involved in the original investigation had formulated a new theory, based on modern technology and investigative methods. Government officials said that they saw no reason to begin a new investigation.
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin Biography
2009-04-03 3468 Печать
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