RUSSIA: Yuri Gagarin...The First Man in Space...When does First become Second or a Dead-Heat tie?

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May 23rd 2020
Published: May 23rd 2020
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First Man in Space
The USSR was the first to send a satellite into orbit around the Earth on 4 October, 1957 with Sputnik 1 followed by Sputnik 2 on 3 November 1957 with Laika the dog onboard.

So marked the start of the Space Age and the USA-USSR Space Race.

The Americans were upstaged...their Vanguard satellite still in development...yikes...does that mean the Russians could carry a ballistic payload?

On 31 January, 1958, the United States entered the Space Race when they launched their satellite Explorer I which discovered the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth.

In July 1958, Congress passed the Space Act and on 1 October 1958 NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was born .

The USSR was first to send a man into space in 1961...pipped the U.S.A by about 3 weeks..."So close, yet so far" the Americans screamed in despair.

The First Man into Space

The World headlines read:


Soviet Officer Orbits Globe in a 5-Ton ship"

On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth in a Vostok spacecraft in a flight of 1 hour 45 minutes...leaving Earth as a First Lieutenant and returning as a Major.

They had no idea whether man could survive in zero gravity or survive the G-forces or friction heat of re-entry...but survive he did.

Our insular World had been changed forever.

The Soviets beat the Americans by over 3 weeks...the U.S. Redstone rocket standing on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral...Americans gnashing their teeth.

The Space Race well and truly on.

The first American into space was Alan Shepard on 5 May 1961 in a Mercury spacecraft powered by a Redstone rocket for 15 & 1/2 minutes.

USA's President John F. Kennedy on 25 May 1961 declaring the race to land the first man on the Moon before the end of the decade...both the Soviets and the Americans scrambling to do so...the ultimate Space Race as it turned out.

The Soviets were also the first to send a probe to Venus launched on 12 February 1961...believed to have entered a heliocentric orbit of Venus...also first to send a probe to Mars launched on 1 November 1962...a distance record of 106 million miles from Earth at the time communication lost.

From 1962 to 1973 the Americans conducted 10 Mariner missions to observe Mars, Venus and Mercury...7 out of 10 successful...including a number of firsts, including the first planetary flyby, the first planetary orbiter, and the first gravity assisted manoeuver.

On 16 June, 1963 USSR's Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to go into space...orbiting the Earth 48 times.

In March 1965, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov made the first spacewalk in history for 12 minutes...beating out American rival Ed White on Gemini 4 by almost three months.

From the moment Leonov was able to affix the camera to the front of the airlock the mission became a nightmare...his suit ballooned so he could not use his chest camera...unable to re-enter the airlock until he had bled pressure out of his spacesuit...difficulty closing the hatch...cosmonauts unable to regain their seats resulting in re-entry imbalance and malfunction...rotating wildly due to delay in orbital module disconnection from the landing module...landing 386 kms off course in the frozen taiga forests...rescued the following day saving the cosmonauts from freezing to death...the Russian press at all times during the ordeal saying the mission was a success.

So many Soviet firsts...

The Soviets (after 5 previous failed attempts) even had the first Moon landing of a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon...successfully crash landing with
Luna 2 on 13 September 1959 followed by the Americans (after 12 previous failed attempts) successfully crash landing with Ranger 4 in 1962.

The USSR accomplished the first uncrewed Moon soft landing on 31 January 1966 and took the first pictures from the lunar surface with Luna 9 and then again with Luna 13 on 21 December 1966.

4 months after the Soviets the U.S. had their first successful uncrewed Moon soft landing on 30 May 1966 followed with four other Surveyor soft landings from 1966 to 1968.

The Space Race was inviting innovative brilliance from both sides.

Pipped at the post..."so close, but so far" often echoed by the combatants...and combat it was as the USA-USSR Cold War was at its zenith.

The first docking of two spacecraft was by Neil Armstrong with Gemini 8 in 1966 with an unmanned Agena target vehicle followed by the Soviets with two unmanned spacecrafts in 1967.

In 1969 the USSR docked Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 and the cosmonauts swapped craft so they landed in different spacecrafts to the ones had launched in!

The Soviets also launched the first space station Salyut 1 on 29
April 1971...the Americans two years later with Skylab in 1973.

But while there were many firsts...there were also many failures.

Who can forget the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in 1986 when it broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members aboard?

CNN shared the launch live on TV screens...the gasp when it exploded reverberating around the World.

But some disasters are not viewed on televisions.

Only two months after Salyut 1 Spacestation was launched in 1971, three Soviet cosmonauts from Soyuz 11 docked with Salyut 1 and stayed on board for 23 days conducting scientific experiments and setting an endurance record.

However, following transferring back into Soyuz 11 for the return flight, the ventilation valve was jolted open on re-entry and the three cosmonauts were killed.

Salyut 1...the first spacestation...was not visited again.

Soviet Space Pioneers

It would be remiss not to mention Sergei Korolev (1907 - 1966) who is credited as being the founder of the Soviet Union's space program.

Arrested on purportedly trumped up charges of saboteur of military equipment and thrown into a Gulag by Stalin in 1938 for 6 years...upon his release became a pioneer of the
Soviet ballistic missile program.

During his tenure, the Soviet Union saw many space firsts including the first satellite, Sputnik (1957)...the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin (1961) and Luna 9, the first spacecraft to achieve a soft landing on the moon (1966).

He died of cancer in 1966 while planning for the Soviets to be the first to land a man on the moon.

If he had lived, would the Soviets have been the first to successfully land a man on the moon?

A wax figure of a man at a desk with a rocket in the Cosmonaut Museum catches my eye.

On reading his history it is fair to say it blew my mind.

Konstantin Tsolkovsky (1857 - 1935)...another brilliant man...way, way ahead of his time!

In the 1890s while teaching physics and mathematics in a gymnasium and school he researched "aircraft heavier than air" and "the motion of jet aircraft"...even before the simplest aeroplanes were ever designed or flown!

In 1903 he published an article "The Exploration of the World Space by Jet Propulsion Instruments" in which he proposed the use of them for interplanetary space travel.

In this and later articles he laid the foundations of rockets and liquid jet engines.

He was the first to prove cosmic velocities...the first to propose artificial satellites around the Earth and even orbiting space stations to support human settlements using the Sun for well as intermediate bases for interplanetary travel and space trains to ferry people about.

He even considered medical and biological problems that could arise from long flights and human habitation in space!

And to prove he was not just a sci-fi freak...he designed a rocket for interplanetary travel with human figures walking around in the nose section...a model of which was on display for this blown-away Aussie to see!!!

The First Man on the Moon

The Americans pipped the Soviets to land a man on the Moon on 20 July 1969 (21 July 1969 in Oz time)...first human booted footprints by Neil Armstrong ...closely followed by Buzz Aldrin...planting the American flag on the Moon...the Americans screaming "We won, we won".

Yep...screaming "We won, We won".

The only country to land crewed missions on the Moon...six successful missions from 1969 to 1972...24 astronauts taking the Moon walk...impressive in any book.

But the Russians nearly beat the Americans to land a man on the Moon...probably wisely aborting a mission in December 1968 as it turned out.

On 15 September 1968 the Soviet Zond 5 became the second spacecraft to circle the moon and successfully return to Earth.

It was also the first spacecraft to carry life from Earth to the vicinity of the Moon and return, initiating the final lap of the Space Race with its payload of tortoises, insects, plants, and bacteria.

This was followed by Zond 6 on 10 November 1968 which looped around the Moon and successfully re-entered Earth's atmosphere. But loss of cabin air pressure caused biological payload death, parachute system malfunction and severe vehicle damage upon landing.

Although hailed worldwide as remarkable achievements, both these Zond missions flew off-nominal re-entry trajectories resulting in deceleration forces that would have been fatal to humans.

As a result, the Soviets secretly planned to continue uncrewed Zond tests until their reliability to support human flight had been demonstrated.

The CIA reported a potential Soviet crewed circumlunar flight in late 1968 making NASA jumpy...changing the flight plan of Apollo 8 from
an Earth-orbit lunar module test to a lunar orbit mission scheduled for late December 1968.

On 24 December 1968 Apollo 8 thus became the first crewed spacecraft to orbit the Moon and return.

But meanwhile...the USSR was not idle.

In early December 1968 they decided a launch window had opened for a Soviet launch to beat the US to the Moon.

Soviet cosmonauts went on alert to fly the Zond spacecraft then in final countdown at Baikonur for the first human trip to the Moon.

Ultimately, however, the Soviet Politburo (CCCP ruling body) decided the risk of crew death was unacceptable given the combined poor performance of Zond spacecraft and Proton rocket projects and aborted the launch.

Their decision proved to be a wise one as this unnumbered Zond mission was destroyed in another uncrewed test several weeks later when on 20 January 1969 its Proton rocket had a booster malfunction and failed to reach Earth orbit.

This opened it up for the Americans.

Their Apollo spacecraft had the necessary rocket power to slip into and out of lunar orbit and to make course adjustments required for a safe re-entry during the return to Earth.

Apollo 8 had shown the Saturn V booster rocket as reliable and Apollo 10 then performed a full dress rehearsal of a crewed Moon landing in May 1969 testing all the components and procedures just short of actually landing.

With the failure of the robotic Soviet return Moon landing attempt of Luna 15 in early July 1969, the stage was set for Apollo 11.

While the Soviets were secretive the Americans were not.

TVs tuned in around the World and witnessed the first and second man walking on the moon.

I was in a Geography lesson at school at the time...spacemen jumping in slow motion...eyes glued in black and white...gasps and squeals...unforgettable awe.


The World Space Travel Community

Other nations have crashed spacecraft on the surface of the Moon.

Japan on 10 April 1993.

The European Space Agency on 3 September 2006.

India on 14 November 2008.

China on 1 March 2009 followed by soft landings on 14 December 2013 and on 3 January 2019...the first landing on the far side of the Moon.

On 22 February 2019, Israeli private space agency SpacelL launched spacecraft Beersheet on board a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, Florida with the intention of achieving a soft landing. SpacelL lost contact with the spacecraft and it crashed into the surface on 11 April 2019.

Indian Space Research Organisation launched Chandrayaan-2 on 22 July 2019 with landing scheduled on 6 September 2019. However, at an altitude of 2.1 km from the Moon a few minutes before soft landing, the lander lost contact with the control room.

One week later, on 13 September 2019 a group of Aussies had a private audience with Russian cosmonaut Sergei Kud-Sverchkov on our cruise ship in Moscow.

The Russian cosmonaut was a revelation...will be on the International space station for 6 months shortly or maybe is on now...impressing us with the international cooperation of the USA, Russian, Japanese, Canadian, German & UK and study diligence off the chart...the sort of guy a daughter's parents would beg her to bring home for dinner. And to think the Russian cosmonauts had to learn English and the Americans had to learn Russian..super impressive.

He told us of the loss of contact with the Indian spacecraft just prior to its planned landing on the Moon only 7 days before.

The room was hushed...his demenour clear that it was shared pain...the space exploration countries generally collaborative...except for the Chinese who he indicated were reluctant to share their knowledge with the wider space community.


Intrigued by Astronomy since I saw Saturn through a telescope when I was 10...just like in the picture books with its horizontal ring.

In those days Neptune through a telescope was just a twinkle like a star...Jupiter a tiny orb with 4 or 5 moons.

The next time I saw Saturn its ring was standing on end like a dancer in pirouette...never seen that in a book...or since.

As USA's two Voyager missions launched in 1977...planetary flybys...heading to the edge of the solar system...passed by as Uranus smiled then Neptune emerged as a mysterious blue ball with a whirlpool storm...images never seen before.

The Voyager missions have discovered Saturn has 82 moons...Jupiter 79, Uranus 27 and Neptune 13...unknown before.

Poor Pluto discovered in 1930 as the Solar Systems ninth planet...photographed by the New Horizons flyby in 2015, 11 years after its launch...stripped of planet status notwithstanding it
The Space HandshakeThe Space HandshakeThe Space Handshake

Soyuz-Apollo docking July 1975
has 3 to 5 moons...too insignificant or too far away...still rotating the Sun. Why can't it still be a planet or is it that some bullies are saying it is not big enough to play?

Gawking at Hubble Telescope images...hard not to drool in awe...zillions of galaxies in this Universe.

From this tiny planet we call Earth..this speck we call our home...rotating our Sun in a sea of galaxies.

Man has gazed into the heavens for centuries and dreamt...a man "in a 5 ton ship" only 69 years ago the first to venture beyond our atmosphere to look into what is beyond.

The Russians initially led the way with the Americans breathing down their necks before passing them with missions into the deep space beyond.

But who will be remembered into eternity?

The first of the first that's who.

And history will tell us there are two.

The first of the first was Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin...on 21 April 1961...the first man into space...orbited the World in a tiny spacecraft and re-entered the atmosphere in a fiery ball and parachuted to the Earth to the wonderment of all mankind.

A humble man of peasant origins...whose dice of life was rolled to win the lottery of life.

One man chosen from 3,316 candidates...reduced to be the one chosen from a team of 20 "little eagles."

As Nikita Khrushchev famously said of Gagarin:

"People will remember him in 100 years time."

The other has to be Neil Armstrong...the first man to set foot on the Moon on 21 July 1969 who famously said,

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Eight years earlier Yuri Gargarin humbly said after his epic flight,

"Dear friends, both known and unknown to me, people of all countries and continents.

I felt great happiness to be the first to enter the cosmos, to engage single handed in an unprecedented duel with nature.

Could anyone dream of anything greater than that?

But immediately I thought of the tremendous responsibility I be the first to do what generations of people had dreamed of; to be the first to pave the way into space for mankind.

The responsibility is not toward one person, not toward a few dozen, not toward a group.

It is a responsibility to all mankind - toward its present and future.

I say to you , "Until we meet again" dear friends, just as people say to each other when setting out on a long journey.

I would like very much to embrace you all, people known and unknown to me, close friends and strangers alike.

See you soon."

The Cosmonaut Museum and the Space Handshake

I enter the Cosmonaut Museum in Moscow...the history of space exploration displayed before me...the space craft...Americans from our ship exclaiming the exhibits are better than the Kennedy Centre...marvelling at so many Russian firsts that my Western mind had been unaware.

But the exhibit that moved me the most...other than the pioneer Konstantin Tsolkovsky...was "the Space Handshake".

American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts in the first docking of international space stations in July 1975... embracing in space for photographs and united purpose.

The exhibit declaring this event was the greatest example of a thaw in the Soviet and American Cold War in history...this Museum in Moscow extolling the significance of the one of the Americans, General Thomas Stafford in 2015 visited Moscow and the Cosmonaut Museum for the 40th Anniversary of the Soyuz-Apollo docking to celebrate the event.

The Eagle has landed

I walk into the Gents as we exit...the Space Handshake ringing in my head...washing my hands twice with soap from the time too many as it turned out.

The skin on my hands peeling by the time I get on the bus.


Have I been infected by an extra-terrestial being or life force?

I'm in Moscow...far from home.

My hands are red raw...dissolving in front of me.

It's as if I'm in a sci-fi movie...and there's no way out.

Relax & Enjoy,

Dancing Dave

Additional photos below
Photos: 105, Displayed: 34


23rd May 2020

The Space Race
Wow, thank you for providing an overview of the space race between the US and Russia. Once more I realise how flawed our history lessons in school were. We talked so much about the West and so little about the East. We never learned of the many successes that Russia celebrated with their missions into space. And it must have been a very special experience to meet a real cosmonaut!
23rd May 2020

The Space Race
Thanks for reading and commenting Katha. Having some knowledge of the contribution of the Russians to space research, innovation and the massive achievements in the Space Race reminds us that without it we would not have the astounding progress in space exploration to date. It takes vast amounts of money and without the Cold War USA versus USSR who knows if we would even have landed on the moon!
24th May 2020

Thanks for the interesting history lesson about the space race...
You mentioned Gen. Thomas Stafford, and I thought I had seen that name. It turns out he lived here in Woodland Park. There is a sign as you enter this town that states that he lives here!
24th May 2020

Thanks for the interesting history lesson about the space race...
My pleasure, Bob. I find it fascinating. Considering your status in Woodland Park, you might come across Gen. Stafford. You could ask him how to do "The Space Handshake" as a conversation starter!!!
24th May 2020

Space Exploration and Politics
It is always good having a little competition to push the limits. The race was on. We live near NASA and on occasion can see the air trails from the liftoffs. Recently, a lot of Space X launches have been going up. The Hubble is an amazing piece of equipment. Thanks for the reminder of the space race details. MJ
24th May 2020

Space Exploration and Politics
It must be a source of inspiration and pride to have Cape Canaveral near your back door MJ. I hope your local news shares each takeoff on TV and media so the public can continue to be involved. In Oz we just get snatches but we hope to get footage of Elon Musk's latest Space X liftoff on 27 May being the first to launch astronauts into space from US soil since 2011. Hope you'll get to see it live. That would be awesome.
24th May 2020

Endless fascination
From the Dangerous One: Growing up in the States, the launch of any manned spacecraft was an incredibly momentous event. I can remember watching in school as our teacher would bring a black and white TV from her home for us to view. The space race was truly amazing to see what man could really do......I wonder what's on the horizon???
24th May 2020

Endless fascination
It amazes me Dangerous One how much was achieved in early space exploration considering the early stages of computer technology was nothing like it is now. Yet the Space Race had a large role in such breakneck innovative development. As time goes by the saying "the sky is the limit" is becoming an understatement. Maybe it should be "the sky has no limit!"
24th May 2020

One small step for man....
Excellent documentary Dave; a space race revisited. And you are absolutely right - the first of first is always remembered. I am curious when we can land in Mars and Venus - not sure if I could see that in my lifetime.
24th May 2020

One small step for man...
Hi Tab. I should have mentioned the vital role of Australia's Parkes Radio Telescope in the first moon landing that ensured the World had the live TV pictures of that historic event. The Russian cosmonaut told us Canada is also involved in the international space research projects. I am aware Canada has a role in providing robotics for the International Space Station including Canadarm3 and is involved in the Lunar Gateway project. But Trump has recently declared the Artemis Accords will “reinforce that space resource extraction and utilization can and will be conducted.” The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits the “national appropriation” of the moon and other “celestial bodies”. Trump thinks USA can give private companies exclusive access to such resources. The Artemis Accords have already been condemned by Russia as a blatant move to remake space law in favour of the U.S. Will this affect the cooperation of Russia with USA that began with the Space Handshake in 1975? It will be interesting what the future holds in these areas...and whether Canada will be dragged along by USA to just do what it is told. It is said Canada needs to think of itself as a pilot, not a passenger, when it comes to decision-making about the future of space. Food for thought!!!
25th May 2020

...hoping that victory & international collaboration continues
Wow David - that was a brilliant read, enthralled from beginning to end - I must add, I have enjoyed the extensive discussions we have had whilst you were writing this blog, to be able to condense all that you know & have learnt is quite a skill. I was blown away that so much was achieved in such a short period of time in history, each victory becoming the stepping stone for the next... hoping that victory & international collaboration continues.
25th May 2020

...hoping that victory & international collaboration continues
To be able to discover and share a taste of the Russian contribution to the early development of space exploration has opened my eyes to the heavens like never before my love. So often we hear Western perspectives or preconceptions and so often our shared travels blow us away when we discover what is beyond and awaiting us on other sides. I fear international commercial self interests may override the victory and benefits that international space collaboration provides. And lets face it...we know the global perils we faced in the Cold we go forward do we want Russia not to be by our side?
25th May 2020

...standing on the shoulders of those that precede
On pondering the contents of your blog I conclude that by standing on the shoulders of those that precede you allows one to reach the heights of our dreams & beyond...
25th May 2020

...standing on the shoulders of those that precede
Well said my love. Yet history teaches us that man does not learn from mistakes of the past. While the Sun shines will it see humanity's future endeavours and smile? "Together we must learn how to compose difference, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose." Dwight D. Eisenhower
30th May 2020

I was an Apollo 11 junkie
Hi David & Denise, As we progress though the current events Simon and I both hope you are keeping well. We are, although we not enjoying the cold weather and having our wings cut. We do however continue to look forward to future travels. This is our 1st full time autumn in Melbourne since 2015 and we have winter on our doorstep. BRRRR!!! Thank you so much for your blogs. They are always so informative. Your latest blog is packed with information and such an interesting read. I was an Apollo 11 junkie saving all the newspapers at the time. However, although I had heard of the Sputniks, Laika the dog, Yuri Gagarin and the 1st spacewalk all the other must have passed me by. Your comment about the Americans saying that the Cosmonaut Museum has better exhibits than the Kennedy Space Centre I totally agree. I could have spent hours in there trying to absorb all the displays and information. Mind you at the Kennedy Space Centre we did get to go out to the Apollo launch pad and into the mission control centre rooms and those things were very special as they were frozen in time. Got up to watch the Space X launch and was disappointed at the ABC coverage and was channel surfing to find a better one when the new flash came up. Oh well that's life as we know it. Keep well and safe. Kind regards, Liz
30th May 2020

I was an Apollo 11 junkie
So good to hear from you Liz. Now we have seen the impressive Russian contributions at the Cosmonaut Museum in Moscow we fellow space junkies should visit the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida like Simon & you have. But will it ever be safe enough to visit USA wise?
30th May 2020

thanks again for the updates
Hi Denise and David, Thanks for being such good correspondents.... rather showing up Wolf and me!! Hope you are now out and about, although I think NSW isn't quite as free as we are - however given 4 or 6 sailors from a recently berthed ship are now in isolation with CV19, maybe we will go back to a few weeks ago? Who knows. Hope this finds you both well. And thanks again for the updates. Glenda and Wolf
30th May 2020

thanks again for the updates
Thank you Glenda for keeping in touch. My pleasure to post these blogs to bring back shared images and memories and keep them in focus.
30th May 2020

All the best from the West
Hi Denise and David, Thanks for the detailed write-up and the photos; enjoyed both greatly. Trust you are well and busy. All of the best from the West, Wolf
30th May 2020

All the best from the West
If ever there was an adventurer on our trip it was you, Wolf...the places you have been! Hope you saw your own space handshake pic among the photos. Thanks for commenting and watch this space. Our cruise hasn't finished yet.
18th July 2020

Blogging from Space
Your blog got me thinking how cool it will be when we have first travelblog written here by a tourist who has been to the moon or international space station. What a treat you guys must of had to be briefed by an actual Russian cosmonaut. I once had placed my bare elbows down on a bar of dubious repute only to have my skin dissolve and begin to shed away. Strange experience to say the least!
29th July 2020

Blogging from Space
Would be cool indeed to blog from space Tommy, but with the confines of the economic forces that would wish to control such communication, who knows! Placing your elbows on a bar of ill refute and your skin dissolve and shed away...that's a real yeeka situation. My peeling hands only got relief from pawpaw ointment in relief in Russia then an unexpected cure in an unexpected source and location...a freaky experience indeed!!!
25th August 2020
Descent Module Soyuz 37

Some notes on space and astronomy and stuff
Actually largest scale model of the solar system in the world can be studied in Sweden. Literally, in all of Sweden. The center, the sun, is in Stockholm, the planets and other objects can be found in various places from the very south to the very north in Sweden. This year we visited Pluto, Neptune and Ixion. Next year we will probably see more objects/sculptures that are part of Sweden Solar System. Have you seen the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC? I can recommend it. It is awesome. /Ake
26th August 2020
Descent Module Soyuz 37

Some notes on space and astronomy and stuff
Many other reasons we must visit Sweden, Ake. And if we do we would like to see Emma & your good self. As Christmas 2020 approaches I will have to pull out my large telescope as I hear Jupiter and Saturn will be able to be seen together with the one lens. I hope you have that opportunity in the Northern Hemisphere as well.

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