We live in exciting times when it comes to space exploration, and it is in these times, more than ever, when we have to remember Yuri Gagarin, Scott Glenn, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and other pioneers that one day, it is now between five and six decades, they began to write a story that, even today, remains formidable. Many of the present and future plans have their origin in the deeds that were written in the sixties.
Was the April 12, 1961 when, on board Vostok 1, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel to outer space, making a complete orbit around the Earth before returning to our planet. Those were the times when the former USSR took the lead over the United States in the space race (it was coming from a previous achievement with Sputnik). A time when the two superpowers pursued the right goals for the wrong reasons.
Few could have imagined March 9, 1934, when Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin in the village of Klushino (later renaming with the surname of his local hero), that the new generation of a peasant family (his father was a carpenter and his mother worked on a collective farm) would take a very different path, which would lead him to the air force of the Soviet Union in the first place, and from there he would take the leap that made him rise so, so high .
Yuri Gagarin is, today, one of the names inextricably associated with the origins of space exploration. What not so many remember are the conditions in which the cosmonaut became the legend that he is today. Inside a capsule barely two meters in diameter and without any control over the navigation instrumentsOne could almost say that, during the flight, her role was not too different from that of the dog Laika some time before. The mission, his mission, was to see if he could survive the experience … and he didn’t have too many ballots in his favor.
The rocket responsible for putting Yuri Gagarin into orbit had, so far, a reliability rate of around 50%. That is, it could work fine, but it could also explode, not lift the capsule high enough, deviate from its intended trajectory, or, in the least bad of cases, simply not ignite. In other words, any engineer today would flatly refuse to allow a rocket test that offered so little safety. Those were other times, and Yuri Gagarin was undoubtedly very brave, not to mention reckless.
It was not, remotely, a simple mission or without frights. During the 108-minute flight, Yuri Gagarin had some reason to be afraid. The main reason for this was a miscalculation where the Vostok 1 rose higher than expected. This made Gagarin’s life and mission success dependent on the capsule’s brakes. And it is that if it had failed, and although the ship carried supplies for several days, its stay in space would have extended far beyond its stock and, inevitably, it would have died.
In the end, even though the brakes worked, the Vostok 1 did not land in the intended place. Thus, when leaving the capsule, Yuri Gagarin found a mother and a daughter picking potatoes, and had to make an effort to make them see that he was not a spy or anything like that. After that, yes, the glory came, international tours through friendly countries of the eastern bloc and, yes, he never flew in space again. Surely the USSR considered it more useful as an element of propaganda, compared to the United States which, at that time, saw its efforts to be the first in the space race pale.
I said before that the two superpowers pursued the right objectives for the wrong reasons, and that is that space exploration is a fundamental milestone in the history of mankind. Yuri Gagarin’s flight, like that of Nel Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, is comparable only to feats like that of the Wright brothers, or sailors like Christopher Columbus, Fernando de Magallanes and Juan Sebastián Elcano. Men who risked their lives to go further. That it was in the context of the cold war detracts from their motivations, but not their heroes.