Montag, 6. Juni 2011

Yuri Biography

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (March 9, 1934 - March 27, 1968), was a Soviet cosmonaut who in 1961 became the first human in space and the first human to orbit the Earth.

Early life

Yuri Gagarin was born in Klushino near Gzhatsk, a region west of Moscow, Russia, on March 9, 1934. The town would be renamed Gagarin in 1968 to honour Yuri. 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, apparently as conscripts, in 1943, and did not return until after the war. His teachers described Gagarin as intelligent and hard-working, if occasionally mischievous. His mathematics teacher flew in the Red Army Air Force 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 an airbase in the Murmansk region, near the Norwegian border, where terrible weather made flying risky. As a full-grown man, Gagarin was 5 feet 2 inches (approx. 157.5cm) tall.

Career in Soviet space program

Selection and training

In 1960, an extensive search and selection process saw Yuri Gagarin, as one of 20 cosmonauts, selected 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 training related to the upcoming flight. Out of the 20 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 party", 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.

Space flight

On April 12, 1961, Gagarin became the first human to travel into space in Vostok 3KA-2 (Vostok 1). His call sign in this flight was Cedar (Russian: ????). According to international media, 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.

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. At the time the Soviet authorities thought it was more likely he would perish during his descent than survive.

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 to promote the Soviet achievement. He proved quite adept at handling the publicity. However, it appeared to gradually wear him down, and he began to drink heavily - not helped by difficulties in his marriage. In October 1961 he severely injured himself in a drunken holiday escapade while vacationing with a young nurse in the Crimea.

From 1962 he served as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet, but later returned to "Star City", the cosmonaut facility, where he worked on designs for a reusable spacecraft.

In 1967, he was selected as the backup pilot for the Soyuz 1 Mission. Western journalists reported that, despite problems with Soyuz, Leonid Brezhnev applied pressure for a spaceflight to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Communist revolution. Cosmonauts and technicians prepared a document listing 200 technical problems with Soyuz and gave it to party members. A few weeks before launch, the pilot, Vladimir Komarov, a close friend of Gagarin, said, "If I don't make this flight, they'll send the backup pilot instead. That's (Yuri), and he'll die instead of me." After Komarov was killed when his spacecraft crashed during its return, Gagarin, very upset, said, "...if I ever find out he (Brezhnev) knew about the situation and still let everything happen, then I know exactly what I'm going to do." It is rumored that Gagarin did eventually catch up with Brezhnev and threw a drink in his face. This may be apocryphal, but as the Soviet veil of secrecy is slowly lifted such stories will be more easily verified.

Death and legacy

Yuri Gagarin Memorial Plaque - presented to the USSR on January 21, 1971. Accepting the plaque at the Moscow ceremony was Soviet Gen. Kuznetsov, commander of the USSR's Star City space base, where cosmonauts have been training since 1960. Gagarin, who made history with his 1 hour and 48 minute flight, lost his life in a training accident on March 27, 1968.
Yuri Gagarin Memorial Plaque - presented to the USSR on January 21, 1971. Accepting the plaque at the Moscow ceremony was Soviet Gen. Kuznetsov, commander of the USSR's Star City space base, where cosmonauts have been training since 1960. Gagarin, who made history with his 1 hour and 48 minute flight, lost his life in a training accident on March 27, 1968.

Gagarin then became deputy training director of Star City. At the same time, he began to requalify as a fighter pilot. On March 27, 1968 he and his instructor died in a MiG-15 UTI on a routine training flight near Kirzhach. It is uncertain what caused the crash, but a 1986 inquest suggests that the turbulence from a Su-11 interceptor airplane 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. The rumor that Gagarin was drunk is almost certainly incorrect — he passed two medical examinations before the flight, and postmortem tests found no evidence of alcohol or drugs in his system. 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.

The Russian press reported he stayed with the aircraft to prevent it from hitting a school, but this too may be apocryphal.

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