The Department of History
of Space Explorations
and Roketry

St. Petersburg


I wish you new what a man he was!

This first line of the famous song, by N. Dobronravov and A. Pakhmutiva became winged. After the tragic death of Yuri Alekseyevitch Gagarin that happened on March, 27 1968 they wrote a cycle of songs dedicated to him.

Today, when a new generation has grown up since the day of the first flight to space, performed by Y.A. Gagarin, it is quite natural, that many fabrications and falsehoods about his life have appeared.

I hadn't chance to meet with Yuri Alekseyevitch Gagarin in person, but I tried my best to read all that had ever been written about him. I listened intently to his speeches and to the records of his speeches, to his first live press-conferences, that were broadcasted without editing and overwriting, that often occur nowadays.

I saw his reaction to the questions that rained down on him. For he was the first to see the Earth from the orbit, the first to experience imponderability and the return to the Earth, when the blazing descent module forced its way through the atmosphere.

He was born in the family of a carpenter and a milkmaid on March 9, 1934, in the village of Khlushino, Gzhatsky area, Smolensky region - an out-of-the-way place of Russia. His farther was Aleksei Ivanovich Gagarin, his mother was Anna Timofeyevna, her maiden name being Matveyeva. Yuri was the third child in the family and he also had younger siblings. During the Great Patriotic War the family found themselves in the occupation and suffered through many hardships: the bitter retreat of the Soviet and savage offence of the German. Yuri's younger brother, Boris, was played a cruel trick on: he was hanged by the scarf and had a narrow escape.

After the Nazi was thrust back, Yuri went to school to study well and with deep interest. But as it was hard for his parents to make the ends meet with such a big family, after the 6th grade Yuri entered industrial school Liuberetskoye, attached to the agricultural machinery factory to become a founder. Then there followed training in the industrial-construction technical school in Saratov since 1952. It was in Saratov, where he began to attend aircraft club. He wanted to fly and to become a pilot. As a last-year student, he did practical work at first in Moscow on a Voyeikov plant and later in Leningrad, on Voulkan plant. Though he had to study in two institutions at a time, he coped with it well, for he was young, persistent and eager to become a pilot. After finishing the technical school and aircraft club he had to choose between two opportunities: the civil pilot school and military pilot school. He chose the latter, because there they used more up-to-date models of the planes and besides, as a military man he would not have to care about earning his living, for military men were put down on allowances.

Since he had finished the technical school with excellent marks, he was accepted to the military pilot school without passing any exams. In 1955 he began studying in Military School of Orenburg. After graduation he became pilot-destroyer. As an excellent student, after graduation he could choose the place of his military service himself, and he chose the North and Navy air force. By that time he was married to Valentina Ivanovna Goryacheva.

They lived in a small northern military town. Those, who experienced it, know what it is like; for those, who did not, it is of no use to describe it, because they wouldn't understand it.

When the first artificial satellite was launched Yuri thought that it would have been great to try it himself, but who new when it would be possible? After soviet station performed a flight around the Moon and the pictures of its reverse side were made, he understood that soon it would be possible for man to explore space, too. And then suddenly came a call to an interview. The interview was carried out by strange men, all dressed in military uniform, but they didn't look like pilots. They asked him about all sorts of things: if he flied well, if he wanted to test new equipment?

Of course, Yuri wanted. He was told to wait for the next call. During the physical examination that took place in Moscow Pilot Hospital, he met with other pilots. It was understood that many of them were to be weeded out.

Some of them preferred to yield up and to leave. Gagarin stood all the tests. Then there came agony of suspense, when he wondered if they would accept him or not, for the entry was really large. At last to men were selected from Gagarin's unit: Yuri Alekseyevitch Gagarin himself and Georgy Stepanovitch Shonin, both of them senior lieutenants, both young and not very tall.

They arrived to their new duty station. Since March 7, 1960, according to the order of the Commander-in-chief of Air Forces K.A. Vershinin they became students-cosmonauts. The studies began on March 14, 1960. Later new students were accepted, and the 20th - and the last - started his studies on June 16, 1960. Everybody understood that their will be most extraordinary and they were to become not merely pilots, but the pilots of space ships. But at first there came serious theoretical and physical training, and parachuting that helps to develop willpower and quick-wittedness.

Students listened to the lectures of air forces physicians V.I. Yazdovsky, A. Genin, O.G. Gazenko, A. Seryapin, N.N. Gourovsky, F. Gorbov. Lectures on the basics of space machinery gave members of S.P. Korolyov's design office, K.D. Boushuyev, M.K.Tikhonravov, B.V. Raushenbah, K.P. Feoktistov, V.I.Sevastianov, O.G. Makarov. Parachuting was supervised by famous parachutist H.K. Nikitin, legendary hero and the ultimate expert in the field. As a military man he was a strict coacher and his students fulfilled the complete cycle that included parachuting on land, on water, on wood and at nighttime. The students got to know each other better and the group became very closely knit.

They were trained to fulfill different tasks in state of imponderability on board of plane; they were tested in centrifuge with overload of 10 g, in heat-chamber and anechoic chamber.

By July, 1960 among the 20 future cosmonauts a "shock" brigade of six was chosen: Yuri Alekseyevitch Gagarin, German Stepanovitch Titov, Andrian Grigorievitch Nikolayev, Pavel Romanovitch Popovitch, Valentin Stepanovich Varlamov and Anatoli Yakovlevitch Kartashev. Varlamov and Kartashev were eliminated because of physical problems: one of them injured his spine while swimming in a lake, and the other after the centrifuge tests suffered from multiple extravasations of minor vasculums. These two were replaced by Grigori Grigorievitch Neliubov and Valeri Fedorovich Bykovski.

It happened so, that, when S.P. Korolyov showed the cosmonauts through the workshop, where the space ships were assembled, he offered them to "try the space ship on" and the first to enter the landing module was Yuri Gagarin. He was also the first to try on the space suit, that very one he wore later during his flight.

In winter of 1961 they passed exams. The results showed that one of the main candidates was Yuri Gagarin; there were also two reservists, as they were called at that time, the word "double" appeared later. They were German Titov and Grigori Neliubov. The day before the launch, on April 11, 1961 according to the request of S.P. Korolyov V.B. Raushenbah and K.P. Feoktistov tested Gagarin's knowledge and gave him the last instructions about their activity during the flight.

After the return to the Earth Gagarin won unprecedented fame. He was launched as a senior lieutenant and returned as a squadron leader. The launch was not reported about at once. Some time ago hearsay was current, that they were waiting for the signature of the Minister of Defense on the order of special promotion to announce about the launch. This, however, looks as if they merely wanted to become convinced that everything went well first.

After the flight many invitations to foreign countries followed. The first country to invite Yuri Alekseyevitch Gagarin was Czechoslovakia. He went to Praga by a regular-route plane, and, to avoid hullabaloo talked to every passenger and to the crew.

The first industrialized country Gagarin visited was Great Britain. He was received by the queen Elisabeth II. Beforehand he was given numerous instructions on how to behave himself in presence of the queen. But it was only Gagarin, who could conduct himself in such a natural way: when he was introduced to the queen, he confessed that he had never been to a royal reception before and he didn't know how to behave to meet the requirements of tradition, and asked the queen to explain how to conduct himself. The queen answered that she didn't know all the subtleties of the etiquette herself and that Master of Ceremonies would help both of them. The conversation went friendly and unconstrained. At first there was some tension, as Gagarin on his way to the royal residence turned away from the windows of the palace, where the royal family stood, to salute the Londoners that gathered to welcome him, but Gagarin's frankness won everybody's favor and everything went well.

The best book ever written about the first cosmonaut group was that by Georgy Shonin. Later he was asked to write its sequel, but he refused. As he put it, this book resembled first love and couldn't be reiterated.

G.S. Shonin, who was acquainted with Gagarin during his service in the North, recorded most significant trait of his character - his naturalness in every situation: among his friends, among admirers, on an important official meeting, during conversations with leaders. He never lost his face, never put on airs. He always found the topic that interested his interlocutor and always was himself.

That is how he will be remembered. And those, who try to slander him, will remain calumniators, no matter how hard they can try to pretend unprejudiced chroniclers.

Valerii N. Koupriyanov

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