Sixty years later, the general conspiracy is well known, although steeped in legends: on April 12, Yuri Gagárin became the first person to leave the earth and to travel the world in his Vostok-1 capsule before returning to the ground. What few know is that the first manned space mission in history for very little money did not end in disaster.
The history of the Soviet space program is very reminiscent of the famous Russian matrioskas: dolls that, when opened, reveal ever smaller and deeper figures. Secrets within secrets. The latter were discovered in 2015 by the Bengali-American historian Asif Siddiqi and handed over documents published by the Russian government in Moscow in 2011.
Among them, Siddiqi found a report on the mission marked “confidential”, which was intended for the highest Soviet authorities. It’s like a summary of the results produced by engineers under the direction of chief designer Sergei Korolev on May 9, 1961 – less than a month after the historic flight.
The document reiterates much of what has been shown in previous publications, such as the fact that Gagarin was indeed the first cosmonaut (which cast down urban legends that there had previously been other unsuccessful attempts to send a Soviet into space). However, there are a few relevant changes – starting with the total flight time.
The history books as well as the International Aeronautical Federation report that the first manned space flight lasted 108 minutes, between being launched with a Vostok missile in Baikonur and Gagarin’s descent to the ground – made with a parachute after he ejected the capsule 7 km altitude (by the way this was the first Matriosca shift: from the day of the flight until 1971, the Soviet Union denied that the cosmonaut had been ejected because the recording of the recording with the FAI required the pilot to return to the ground in the vehicle).
The documents show that, according to the cosmonaut (the only witness besides a farmer and his daughter), Gagárin reached the ground two minutes earlier than in the official recording, which corresponds to a total flight time of 106 minutes. .
In addition, the document emphasizes the importance of promoting landmark spaceflight in the midst of an unbridled race between two superpowers. “We found in the document that while preparing two previous dog missions in March 1961 and building Gagarin’s own vehicle, at least 70 anomalies were found in the on-board instruments,” says Siddiqi. “And yet the flight went on!”
The flight profile was simple: a capsule on a missile derived from the R-7 ballistic missile would be put into orbit, orbited around the earth, and its retro missile would re-enter and return to Soviet soil.
However, it was the first time this was done with a human on board and the document shows that the life support system “did not fully meet the requirements. [de design]”which means he was operating at the border to keep the young cosmonaut of 27 years old in good condition (in contrast, the material confirms that Gagárin was never sick at any point during the flight, another lingering rumor about the mission ).
A failure of the valves on one of the rocket stages was also noted, causing the spacecraft to be in a higher orbit than planned. Instead of a summit of 230 km, it ended with 327 km. It may seem like a detail, but it was critical. The original orbit was chosen so that the spaceship would automatically re-enter in just one week, even without retrofiles – Gagarin could maintain supplies on board for ten days. In real orbit, re-entry without assistance would take a month. In other words, if the Vostok-1 retrofog didn’t work, the cosmonaut in orbit would die.
The retro missile worked, but fired a second less than planned due to the failure of another valve. This resulted in Gagárin landing 300 km from the planned area. An additional drama occurred because the instrument module with the retro rocket could not be ejected from the capsule and was trapped by cables that did not come loose until the beginning of re-entry – this time extremely risky.
Gagárin achieved an uncomfortable turn of 30 degrees per second until the aerodynamics brought the capsule into the correct orientation. During the descent, he said he went through forces of 10 to 12 G (as if he had 10 to 12 times his weight due to the slowing down).
And then came the capsule ejection. The cable connecting Gagarin to the emergency supply was broken when he landed in a hard-to-reach place. In addition to the main parachute, the reserve parachute has partially opened. It could have had a serious negative impact on relegation. But luck benefits the brave.
Back on the ground, Gagárin was found by a farmer and his daughter, a special situation that the cosmonaut described in this way. “When they saw me in my spacesuit and with the parachute next to me as they left, they started to walk away in fear. I told them don’t be afraid, I’m a Soviet citizen like you who came down from space and must be Find a phone to call Moscow! “
The story almost turned out to be no less funny. The Vostok program would also bring five more cosmonauts into space, including the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, who shows that despite the flaws in Gagarin’s flight, the system was ready to keep the Soviets ahead of the Americans in the first phase of the space race.