On 12 April 1961, a Vostok-K rocket was used to launch Vostok 1, the first manned spaceflight, which made Yuri Gagarin the first human to fly in space. Vostok 1 is the name of the spacecraft launched by Vostok-K carrying Yuri Gagarin to the Low earth orbit of perigee 181 km. All six manned missions of the Vostok programme were launched using Vostok-K rockets.

 The Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1) awaits the launch of Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, which would make him the first human to travel into space. (Image credit: ESA)
The Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1) awaits the launch of Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, which would make him the first human to travel into space. (Image credit: ESA)

The spacecraft consisted of a nearly spherical cabin covered with ablative material. There were three small portholes and external radio antennas. Radios, a life support system, instrumentation, and an ejection seat were contained in the manned cabin. This cabin was attached to a service module that carried chemical batteries, orientation rockets, the main retro system, and added support equipment for the total system. This module was separated from the manned cabin on reentry. After one orbit, the spacecraft reentered the atmosphere and landed in Kazakhstan (about 26 km southwest of Engels) 1 hour 48 minutes after launch. Those 108 minutes were enough to make history.

Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok-K launch footage And Radio

Ground trace of Gagarin's complete orbit; the landing point is west of the takeoff point because of the Earth's eastward rotation.
Ground trace of Gagarin’s complete orbit; the landing point is west of the takeoff point because of the Earth’s eastward rotation.

Another aspect to know is that because engineers were uncertain about how weightlessness would affect Gagarin, the spherical one-person Vostok capsule had little in the way of onboard controls, with most actions being coordinated by planners on the ground. In case of an emergency, Gagarin was given an override code allowing him to take manual control.

On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1). (Image credit: ESA/alldayru.com)
On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1). (Image credit: ESA/alldayru.com)

Coming back to Earth

At 07:55 UTC, when Vostok 1 was still 7 km from the ground, the hatch of the spacecraft was released, and two seconds later Gagarin was ejected. At 2.5 km altitude, the main parachute was deployed from the Vostok spacecraft.

Two schoolgirls witnessed the Vostok landing and described the scene: “It was a huge ball, about two or three meters high. It fell, then it bounced and then it fell again. There was a huge hole where it hit the first time.”
Gagarin’s parachute opened almost immediately, and about ten minutes later, at 08:05 UTC, Gagarin landed. Both he and the spacecraft landed via parachute 26 km south west of Engels, in the Saratov region.

A farmer and her granddaughter, Rita Nurskanova, observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”

Model of the Vostok spacecraft with its upper stage, on display in Frankfurt Airport's "Russia in Space" exhibition
Model of the Vostok spacecraft with its upper stage, on display in Frankfurt Airport’s “Russia in Space” exhibition. Photo credits: de:Benutzer:HPH (Wikipedia)
The Vostok 1 capsule when it was on display at the RKK Energiya museum. The main capsule, seen in the center of this picture, is now on display at the Space Pavilion at the VDNKh.  Credits: SiefkinDR
The Vostok 1 capsule when it was on display at the RKK Energiya museum. The main capsule, seen in the center of this picture, is now on display at the Space Pavilion at the VDNKh. Credits: SiefkinDR

Good to know

Sacrifice of dogs: Between 1950 and ’61, the Soviets launched several test Vostok capsules containing dogs. Most survived; the few that died were lost mostly through technical failures, according to the parameters of the test. some of which were killed during their missions and some of which survived and landed safely on Earth. While total number of missions were ~55+, the number of dogs in space is smaller, as some dogs flew more than once.

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