Unit 5 Arrival of the cosmonauts

Who would fly the first spaceships? There were no known ground rules and these had to be invented by Korolev and the others. It was decided to recruit an initial group of cosmonauts – the word ‘cosmonaut’ was used to differentiate from the existing term of astronaut. The cosmonauts had to be brave, reliable, physically fit, not panic, capable of mental endurance. [6]

Air Force Pilots selected for first manned flight into space, March – June 1960 Pavel Belyayev(Беляев Павел Иванович) Valeri Bykovsky(Быковский Валерий Федорович) Yuri Gagarin(Гагарин Юрий Алексеевич ) Viktor Gоrbаtkо(Горбатко Виктор Васильевич) Anatoli Kartashov(Карташов Анатолий Яковлевич) Yevgeni Khrunov(Хрунов Евгений Васильевич) Vladimir Komarov (Комаров Владимир Михайлович) Alexei Leonov(Леонов Алексей Архипович) Andrian Nikolayev(Николаев Андриян Григорьевич) Pavel Popovich(Попович Павел Романович) Georgi Shonin (Шонин Георгий Степанович) Boris Volynov(Волынов Борис Валентинович) Dmitri Zaikin (Заикин Дмитрий Алексеевич) Valentin Bondarenko (Бондаренко Валентин Васильевич) Valentin Varlamov (Варламов Валентин Степанович) Gherman Titov (Титов Герман Степанович) Grigori Nelyubov (Нелюбов Григорий Григорьевич) Mars Rafikov (Рафиков Марс Закирович) Ivan Anikeyev (Аникеев Иван Николаевич) Valentin Filateev(Филатьев Валентин Игнатьевич)


Yuri Gagarin emerged as the most determined, energetic and ambitious of all the cosmonauts. Yuri Gagarin was born in 1934 near Smolensk, western Russia. In his youth he learned to be a foundryman and went to several industrial schools. He enlisted in the Saratov flying school in his spare time, went to pilot training school, joining the Soviet Air Force as a fighter pilot in 1956.

Because of his short height he always put a cushion on the seat of his MiG fighter. In 1957 he married а nursing student, Valentina, at his base and then transferred for arduous service in the Arctic. In 1959, on his own initiative, he wrote to his superiors, applying to join a group of cosmonauts ‘if such a group exists’. His application was filed. Gagarin was in time called up, put before a medical board and selected as a cosmonaut on his 26th birthday in March 1960.

…So who would fly the first mission? In May the director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre Evgeni Karpov selected six of the 20 as a training group for the first flight (the Americans did something similar, selecting Shepard, Grissom and Glenn from the seven rivals). The six were Kartashov, Varlamov, Gagain, Titov, Nikolayev and Popovich. When Kartashov and Varlamov were invalided out, they were replaced by Nelyubov and Bykovsky. The six were kept waiting even as the final preparations went ahead.

5 April. [Final assembly of the manned spaceship in the huge 20 m high hangar at the cosmodrome.] Korolev and the State Commission were present and all the cosmonauts were at the launch site. They watched the assembly process from Korolev’s glass office on the second floor inside the building.

The manned spaceship was carried by crane across the assembly hangar and placed gingerly on the third stage. Fasteners were tightened and connectors joined. The nosecone was put in position. The long grey, white and silver rocket lay on its railcar in the hangar, shining under the arc lamps, pointing towards the pad.

12 April. … It was 90 minutes to blastoff. Yuri Gagarin disappeared into the lift. In minutes he had clambered into the Vostok. The hatch was closed. He was on his own.

… The booster rose, gathering speed every second. Eyes followed intently upwards. Gradually it bent over in its climbing, heading into the north-east. Four bright light diamonds were all that could be seen of the engine chambers as Vostok disappeared from sight.

… Eight minutes. Engine cutoff. The rumble and shaking of the booster subsided abruptly. Silence, total silence, enveloped Vostok. Yuri Gagarin had reached orbit, somewhere over eastern Siberia.

Vostok was 181 km high and its orbit was to reach as high as 327 km. As he gazed through the two portholes of his silent spaceship, Gagarin began to take in the vastness of the planet. Later he described it in his own words. They tell it best:

I saw for the first time the spherical shape of the Earth. You can see its curvature when looking to the horizon. It is unique and beautiful. The day side of the Earth was clearly visible. The coasts of continents, islands, big rivers, the surfaces of water were distinguishable. It is possible to see the remarkable colourful change from the light surface of the Earth to the completely black sky in which one can see the stars. The dividing line is very thin, just a belt of film surrounding the Earth’s sphere. It is of a delicate blue colour and the transition from the blue to the dark is very gradual and lovely. When I emerged from the shadow of the Earth, the horizon looked different. There was a bright orange strip along it which again passed into a blue hue and once again into a dense black colour.

Vostok was travelling at 8 km/s. It headed across the vast blue of the Pacific. Mariners had taken months and months to cross it but Gagarin would transit in 20 minutes. Down below, tossed on the waves of the ocean, Soviet tracking ships turned their antennae skywards to hear the signals and telemetry of Vostok and the voice of its occupant. By now, news of the flight was out. At 9.59 а.m., 6.59 a.m. in Britain and 1.59 a.m. in America, Moscow Radio came on air with the historic announcement:

Today, 12 April 1961, the first cosmic ship named Vostok, with a man on board, was orbited around the Earth from the Soviet Union.

He is an airman, Major Yuri Gagarin....



1. Transcribe the words:

Cosmonaut, fighter, arduous, spherical, curvature, horizon, surfaces, distinguishable, sphere, unique

2. Explain in English and then translate the following words and expressions into Russian:

pilot training school, applying to join a group of cosmonauts, was put before a medical board, cosmodrome, launch site, manned spaceship, launch site

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