How to set a Record
Yuri Gagarin: first human being to journey into outer space
It was 50 years ago that man first ventured into space. On April 12, 1961, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth in Vostok 1 (Vostok 3KA-3) on a flight lasting 108 minutes and became the first human being to leave the confines of the Earth's atmosphere. The space capsule was carried aloft by a Vostok 8K72K rocket, derived from the R-7 ICBM, from a launch site that was claimed to be at 47oN 65oE, not far from the mining town of Baikonur in Kazakhstan. In fact the true launch site was about 320km to the southwest, near Tyuratam railway station and the name 'Baikonur' was used to cause confusion and keep the location secret. Presently known as Gagarin's Start (45.920278oN 63.342222oE) the launch pad is part of the world's largest operational space launch facility now known as the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The full details of Gagarin's flight were submitted to the FAI by The USSR Central Aero Club V. P. Tchkalov on May 26, 1961, requesting that records for flight duration (108minutes), altitude (327km) and mass lifted to this altitude (4725kg) be recognised as World Records. Two copies of the Records File were provided, one in Russian and the other in English, each consisting of a title page and 16 numbered leaves, including Gagarin's own flight report signed in ink, and black-and-white photographs of Gagarin in uniform, Gagarin in his flight suit and an inside view of the Vostok capsule. Gagarin begins his statement by saying that “On the 12th of April, 1961, the Soviet spaceship-sputnik 'Vostok' was put in orbit around the Earth with me on board”. He goes on to describe briefly his training, physical fitness and the beginning of the flight “ ... In the course of the powered flight, in the ascent period, g-loads and vibrations had no depressing effects on me and I could fruitfully work in accordance with a predetermined programme. The spaceship put in orbit and the carrier rocket separated, weightlessness set in. At first the sensation was to some extent unusual, although I had experienced weightlessness of short duration before. But soon I adapted myself ..... and could continue fulfilling my programme”. He “ate and drank and maintained continuous communication with the Earth on different channels by telephone and telegraph”. He soon descends and lands uneventfully.
During the flight he also observes the Earth and “could clearly distinguish big mountain ranges, big rivers, large forests, coastlines and islands..... The sky was jet black .....The Earth had a very pretty and distinct blue halo [which] had a smooth transition from pale blue to blue, dark blue, violet and absolutely black .... a magnificent picture”. He concludes, “Thanks to a thorough training I experienced no discomfort from the effects of the space-flight factors. At present I feel fine. April 15, 1961.”
Alan Shepard: first American to travel into space
Beginning of the Apollo program
Gus Grissom: second American spaceflight
German Titov: Vostok 2
Meanwhile the Soviet manned space programme continued and on August 6, 1961, German Titov completed over 17 orbits in Vostok 2, before returning to Earth safely at the beginning of the 18th orbit.
John Glenn: first American to orbit the Earth
At the conclusion of Project Mercury the United States had amassed only two days and six hours in space. It soon became evident that an intermediate step was needed before an attempt to go to the Moon could be made. Thus, Project Gemini was conceived. On December 7, 1961, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced a plan to extend the piloted spaceflight program by developing a two-person spacecraft.
The cost and risk of manned space flight has been high. The first confirmed in-flight fatality in the history of spaceflight occurred on April 24, 1967. Colonel Vladimir Komarov was killed when his Soyuz 1 spacecraft crashed during its return to Earth following parachute failure. The crew of Soyuz 11, Georgiy Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, Vladislav Volkov were killed on June 30, 1971, by exposure to the vacuum of space after undocking from the Salyut 1 space station. These are the only recorded fatalities in space (i.e. above the Karmann line).
Space stations have been envisaged since at least 1869 when Everett Hale wrote about a 'brick moon'. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Hermann Oberth also published articles about manned spaceflight and space stations. In 1951, Wernher von Braun published his design for a wheeled space station. Salyut and Skylab (1971-1986)
NASA's space shuttle fleet began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981 (exactly 20 years to the day after Gagarin’s flight !) and continues to set high marks of achievement and endurance. Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station.