First Orbit, an Appreciation .

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/

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9 Responses to First Orbit, an Appreciation .


  1. That was an immense sacrifice.

  2. Tom Lee says:


    Rajini Rao Nice post indeed. I’ve heard of his name from time to time, I know who he is but not much in details. Your summary saves me time to read a 100 page book! Thanks.

  3. Rajini Rao says:


    Hi Tom Lee , I happened to see a picture of the spaceship..it was tiny! Just imagine blasting off into space in that. When I was a little girl growing up in India, we subscribed to a Soviet magazine called Sputnik..probably a bunch of propaganda in retrospect, but it did capture our imagination. Cheers to pioneers everywhere 🙂

  4. Tom Lee says:


    Rajini Rao Especially space exploration was a dangerous unknown quantity in the 50’s. A cosmonaut could disintegrate in the launch. The Soviet totalitarian governmental system could brain wash their “hero” to get on a suicide mission. But in this case, according to your summary, Gagarin was a intellect who has his own dream. That is commendable. 🙂

  5. Paul Melrose says:


    Great post. When I was (much) younger I read everything I could get my hands on about the space race, but my favourite story was told to me by someone who had written to every cosmonaut and astronaut during that era. They all wrote back and he became a regular correspondent with some of them. One day there was a knock at his door (this is in Dublin), and it was two men from the USSR embassy. They wanted to talk to Mike and tell him how happy they were that he was interested in the work of the Soviet cosmonauts. They also said that they knew that he was writing to the Americans, and would it be possible to see those letters and would Mike write to the Americans and ask some question for them? Mike’s dad kicked them out.

  6. Rajini Rao says:


    Paul Melrose , great anecdote..no opportunity too small to pass up!


  7. Rajini Rao


    Thank You. Very interesting Publication.


    I was born,lived in former SU.


    We all were interested in Cosmonautics very much…


    Good link.I haven’t seen this film.


    By the way,S.P. Korolev was born,lived,learned


    in Ukraine . So he is absolutely Ukrainian…( :


    And we very proud about this fact here.


    His contribution to the development of space exploration is huge

  8. Rajini Rao says:


    Konstantin Makov , thanks for the info on Korolev..they say that if he had lived longer, the Soviets may have put the first man on the moon. I remember the launch of Sputniks (and Laika, the dog) from my years in India. They were all heroes for us too!

  9. richa sharma says:


    …..by the way, did you know that Sputnik was launched with just a 8-bit computer on board!!! … today, we have a come a long way from there …

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