First Orbit, an Appreciation . 50 years ago, the first earthling escaped the gravitational pull of our planet. In 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin climbed into the spaceship Vostok I and orbited earth once, taking 108 minutes. He was 26 years old, with a smile that was said to “Light up the Cold War”.
• Of twenty highly trained cosmonauts, Gagarin was selected for first orbit because his short stature (5’ 2”) was an advantage in the tiny cockpit. His evaluation by an Air Force Doctor included this: “handles celestial mechanics and mathematical formulae with ease as well as excels in higher mathematics; does not feel constrained when he has to defend his point of view if he considers himself right; appears that he understands life better than a lot of his friends”.
• Amazingly, Gagarin had no control of the spacecraft since it was not known how he would react to weightlessness. He was ejected 7 km from earth, and both he and the capsule landed separately with parachutes. A farmer and her daughter recoiled in fear when they saw him in his orange suit and helmet, but he said “Don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow”!
• Gagarin died 7 years later when the MiG he was flying crashed. In his own words, I could have gone on flying through space forever .
• If you have 108 minutes of your own to spare, watch the film First Orbit, which combines this new footage with Gagarin’s original mission audio and a new musical score by composer Philip Sheppard: http://www.firstorbit.org/