In the history of spaceflight, only one nation has made contributions that rival or supersede those of the Soviet Union or Russia. While the Soviets are credited with making the historic firsts that launched the “Space Age“, the contributions made by Russian scientists predate this period considerably. In terms of theory, the history of Russian space exploration goes back to the 19th century.
However, as with the United States, the practice of sending missions to space did not begin until after World War II. It was at this time, during the fabled “Space Race” between the east and the west, that the Soviet Union conducted several pioneering missions in robotic and crewed spaceflight. These contributions have continued since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ensuring Russia’s continued role as a superpower in space.
On June 2nd, 2003, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission left Earth to begin its journey to Mars. Six months later (on December 25th) the spacecraft fired its main engine and entered orbit around Mars. This Christmas will therefore mark the fifteenth anniversary of the orbiter’s arrival and all the observations it has made of the Red Planet since then.
Appropriately, the Mars Express mission was able to commemorate this occasion by capturing some beautiful photos of a Martian crater that remains filled with ice all year round. This feature is known as the Korolev crater, which measures 82 km (51 mi) in diameter and is located in the northern lowlands, just south of the northern polar ice cap.
50 Years ago on April 12,1961 the era of Human spaceflight opened with a roar to the heavens above with the thunderous blastoff of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard the Vostok 1 capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome Site No.1 at 9:07 a.m. Moscow time. Gagarin, at the age of 27, dared to brave the perils of the unknown and became the first human being to be strapped atop a rocket, ascend to outer space and view what no one else had ever seen, the entire Earth as a sphere. A bold and courageous test flight in every dimension. And the effects of weightlessness had only been tested on dogs – not people.
Herein is a picture album of significant launch day events, including three collages of rare photos of Yuri Gagarin climbing up the launch tower and boarding the Vostok 1 spacecraft for the historic liftoff of the first manned spaceflight on April 12, 1961.
Sergei Korolev, “Chief Designer” of the Soviet Space program radioed, “LIFT OFF! We wish you a good flight. Everything is all right.”
“Poyekhali!”, Gagarin replied “[Off we go!].”
“I see Earth! It is so beautiful!” Gagarin said from orbit. “I see rivers. Visibility is good.”
Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, put out a call for anyone interested in Yuri Gagarin and the birth of the human space exploration era to share their documents, photos and other information with the public – and the fabulous collages resulted from the response.
Do you have photos or memories of Gagarin ? Send them to Ken. Gagarin traveled widely as an ambassador of goodwill, bridging the dangerous ideological gulf between East and West during the height of the Cold War.
Gagarin’s flight lasted 108 minutes for a single orbit around the Earth. The mission was brought to a close with the de-orbit firing of the reentry rockets. Gagarin ejected from the capsule at 7 km altitude because the hard landing of the capsule was too dangerous for people. So he parachuted safely to the ground. April 12 has been celebrated as Cosmonautics Day in Russia every year since 1962. Vostok 1 was Gagarin’s only flight
Tragically, Gagarin’s life ended on March 27, 1968. He was flying a routine training mission in a MiG-15UTI fighter with flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin when the plane suddenly crashed near the town of Kirzhach. Gagarin was laid to rest in the wall of the Kremlin on Red Square.