60 Years. TsAGI — to the Universe: 87 Years from First Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s Birthday
11 March 2021
‘You know, what a guy he was, he who opened the way to the stars?’—these words from the famous song by A. Pakhmutova and N. Dobronravov are known by a vast majority of Russians. Exactly 87 years ago, on March 9, 1934 Yuri Gagarin was born in Klushino village (Smolensk Oblast)—the man who was destined for the world’s first-ever spaceflight.
Yu.A. Gagarin was brought up in a working family; as a child, he survived the Nazi occupation. In June 1951, he graduated with honours from Lyubertsy Vocational School No. 10 as a moulder and foundry worker. While studying at the Saratov Industrial Technical School, Yury entered the local DOSAAF flying club, where he performed 196 flights on training planes. After being conscripted into the Soviet Army, the young man was sent to the 1st Military Aviation School named after K.E. Voroshilov, from which he graduated with honors. He served in Murmansk region in the 769th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the 122nd Fighter Aviation Division of the Northern Fleet, and logged 265 hours on MiG-15bis.
On December 9, 1959 Yuri Gagarin submitted a report, asking to enlist him into the group of astronaut candidates. When the committee selected the candidates, they noticed such Gagarin’s personality traits as high intelligence, winning spirit, proactivity, goal commitment, confidence, promptness, and his ability to stand his ground. On March 3, 1960 Yuri Gagarin was officially enlisted as an astronaut candidate, according to the order by Konstantin Vershinin, Commander-In-Chief of the Soviet Air Force.
The flight preparation took place in Zhukovsky City (Moscow Region), in one of Gromov Flight Research Institute branches where Vostok 3A model spacecraft was located. Simultaneously, TsAGI worked on the space program. For example, TsAGI organized water-tunnel towing tests for the spacesuit, assisted by Yuri Gagarin. Also, TsAGI designed a unique free-flight tunnel for spacecraft air performance tests. This work was honored with USSR State Award which was given to two TsAGI scientists, A. Krasil’schikov and L. Gur’yashkin.
The astronauts were trained by Mark Gallay, USSR test pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union. He would start each his training for common and emergency flight situations with a phrase: ‘Off we go!’. It was that very phras,. which Yuri Gagarin said just a moment before his spaceship, Vostok 1, was launched on April 12, 1961; later the phrase would become iconic.
Yuri Gagarin’s flight lasted 108 minutes. At the spaceship orbited, Gagarin observed the Earth, the Sun and other celestial bodies; he conducted simple experiments and recorded his impressions on a tape unit. In one of his recordings he says: ‘Attention! I can see the Earth horizon. A beautiful halo. The bow goes down from the Earth surface. It’s beautiful!’. At the flight end the space capsule was descending under the 8-10G; its skin burnt on reentry, and the liquid metal flowed down the window glasses. Nevertheless, Yuri Gagarin could eject himself at 7km height; he controlled suspension lines and landed in Saratov Region, approximately in two kilometers to the Volga bank. According to some facts, the local woodman’s wife and his granddaughter were the first people who met the astronaut.
Yuri Gagarin was honored to his first award, For the Development of Virgin Lands medal, nearly at his landing point. Later, on the Red Square, N. Khrushchev announced awarding Gagarin with the Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR and Hero of the Soviet Union. Moscow held a large-scale triumphant demonstration devoted to the first-ever human space flight. Yuri She’lukhin, TsAGI Chief Scientific Officer in Flight Dynamics and Aircraft Control Systems, at that time a student of Moscow Aviation University, remembers those events:
‘That day, when we were informed about the space flight by a Soviet man, Moscow had a massive spontaneous demonstration. We went on foot from MAI—from Sokol metro station—to the Red Square. We were happy, we shouted slogans, and sang. People felt extremely enthusiastic; since then, I have never seen such a nation-wide triumph. At that time, I was also interested in space, and wrote a thesis, guided by Professor V. Yaroshevsky, on satellite reentry; later, I dedicated myself to aircraft theme working in TsAGI’, says Yuri Shel’ukhin.
Yu.A. Gagarin was an amazing person. Thanks to his knowledge, courage, perseverance, determination, our country became the first one in the exploration of outer space. Russia is still one of the leaders in the world aerospace industry, and there are new scientific victories and achievements ahead.