Encyclopedia Astronautica
1961.04.12 - Vostok 1


First manned spaceflight, one orbit of the earth. Three press releases were prepared, one for success, two for failures. It was only known ten minutes after burnout, 25 minutes after launch, if a stable orbit had been achieved.

The payload included life-support equipment and radio and television to relay information on the condition of the pilot. The flight was automated; Gagarin's controls were locked to prevent him from taking control of the ship. The combination to unlock the controls was available in a sealed envelope in case it became necessary to take control in an emergency. After retrofire, the service module remained attached to the Sharik reentry sphere by a wire bundle. The joined craft went through wild gyrations at the beginning of re-entry, before the wires burned through. The Sharik, as it was designed to do, then naturally reached aerodynamic equilibrium with the heat shield positioned correctly.

Gagarin ejected after re-entry and descended under his own parachute, as was planned. However for many years the Soviet Union denied this, because the flight would not have been recognized for various FAI world records unless the pilot had accompanied his craft to a landing. Recovered April 12, 1961 8:05 GMT. Landed Southwest of Engels Smelovka, Saratov.

Kamanin's account

At 04:50 Karpov and Nikitin get up, followed by Gagarin and Titov at 05:20. They go Area 10. A final meeting of the Launch Commission is held at 06:00. There are no discrepancies, all is ready, there are no questions, and they can proceed with the launch. Kamanin proceeds to the MIK to see how the cosmonauts' medical examinations are going. Everything is on schedule. At 08:00 he goes with the engineers to the capsule and enters the secret code (1-4-5) into the lock on the manual controls. The lock works normally and is reset. At 08:20 Moskalenko arrives at the pad, followed by the bus with the cosmonauts at 08:50. Kamanin shakes Gagarin's hand as he enters the lift and says 'Until we met again in Kuibyshev, in a few hours'.

There is a problem in installing the hatch after the cosmonaut straps into the capsule. Due to one defective bolt, it has to be removed and reinstalled. Communications with the capsule are clear. Finally Korolev gives the 'Start' (launch) command, the booster ignites and starts to rise, and Gagarin radios back 'Poyekhali!' ('Here we go!'). It's a good launch, and after thirteen minutes the capsule separates and the first man has reached orbit. The only bad moment came during the handover to Kolpashevo tracking station. There were no communications for several seconds, and Korolev's voice started to shake as he repeatedly called to Gagarin without reply. At 15:15 Gagarin radios 'Beautiful, I see the earth and clouds very well'. Twenty minutes after the launch Kamanin heads for the airport, and boards an An-12 for Stalingrad, 110 km north of the planned landing point.

While in the air he hears that Gagarin landed safely near Saratov, then he hears from a VVS command point that all is in order, Major Gagarin has already been flown to Kuibyshev. At hearing this all ten of the people aboard the aircraft break out cognac and toast to the success. At a factory airfield at Kuibyshev they hear that Gagarin landed 23 km from Saratov and telephoned Moscow only a few minutes after landing. He already had talked to Khrushchev from Engels, and a huge mob was already at the airport. Gagarin is waiting for Kamanin's flight, and greets them wearing his winter flight cap and a light blue Kombinat factory overalls. The group moves to a dacha on the banks of the Volga for Gagarin's examination and debriefing.

At 15:00 Rudnev, Korolev, Keldysh, the other five cosmonauts, and the other members of the State Commission arrive. Gagarin is interviewed about the flight until 21:00, and at 23:00 he goes to bed. Kamanin sits with the others late into the night as they drink toasts. They are all very tired, but too keyed up with the excitement of the day to sleep.

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