Saturday, April 12, 2008

Jurij Aleksejevič Gagarin

Human space travel began on the 12th of April 1961. The progression was dog, monkey (chimp), man. The tension and trepidation of the press and the public concerning surviving space was heavy. Lajka, the dog had died. A cosmonaut (spaceman) was as much a prisoner, and an experimentee as a trained pilot. Gagarin survived. Drama, there was: man conquers space.

The next year, it was a national holiday, Cosmonautics Day. It became an annual celebration for the Russians and the Soviets. The (US) National Space Society translated this into Yuri’s Night in 2001. The cold war was over, and the space shuttles made the news, only when they became disasters, and they wanted more space program.

Radio reports were broadcast across Russia, that first day, “The world's first spaceship, Vostok [East], with a man on board, has been launched on April 12 in the Soviet Union on a round-the-world orbit ”. The unnamed launch pad (at Bajkonur) was departed from at 9.07 a.m. Jurij Aleksejevič radioed back, “The flight is proceeding normally. I feel well ”, and “The flight is normal. I am withstanding well the state of weightlessness”. The public heard at 11.10, that at 10.25 the orbit was completed. The new Magellan, had gone faster and higher than any man had ever gone. The most perilous portion remained, re-entry and then the landing. At 12.25, the good and triumphant news came across broadcast radio, “At 10:55 Cosmonaut Gagarin safely returned to the sacred soil of our motherland ”.

Vostok 1 was the sputnik that carried Gagarin into orbit. The Mercury program in the US was put to shame and it groused. The accomplishment was played down, instruments did all that a man could do in space, for now. The russians were in the lead and that was not appreciated. Space was a prestige project. Russia and the United States competed on everything.

In interviews Gagarin spoke about his adventure:

“From the spaceship, I could not see as well as from an airplane, but still I could see very well. I saw with my own eyes the spherical shape of the earth. I must say that the view of the horizon is unusual and very beautiful. I could see the unusual transition from the light surface of the earth to the blackness of the sky. There is a very narrow band that makes the transition. This band is a delicate blue color.”

“The sun in outer space is tens of times brighter than here on earth. The stars are easily visible. They are bright and distinct. The entire picture of the firmament has much more contrast than when seen from the earth.”

“It is difficult to say in words all the feelings that took hold of me when I stepped on our Soviet land. First of all, I was glad because I had successfully fulfilled my task. In general, all my feelings can be expressed by one word: joy. When I was going down, I sang the song, The Motherland Hears, the Motherland Knows.”

On that first space flight, Jurij Aleksejevič sang a tune by Šostakovič of Dolmatovskij's lyrics*, which began:
Родина слышит, Родина знает,
Rodina slishit, Rodina znaet
Где в облаках её сын пролетает.
Gde v oblakakh eje sin proletaet.

The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows
Where in the clouds her son flies.
It was a great event, Gagarin became a celebrated, national hero and a world celebrity, and the Soviet government had bragging rights. He was Russia’s Lindbergh, Russia’s Columbus. A handsome russian boy who braved the future and succeeded. Khruščjev crowed, “Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any God there”.† He was never to fly as a cosmonaut again. Within seven years he was gone, a victim in a fighter plane crash.

Jevtušenko in a novel quotes from The Angel, in reference to Gagarin:

The angel was flying through sky in midnight,
And softly he sang in his flight;
And clouds, and stars, and the moon in a throng
Hearkened to that holy song.
He sang of the garden of God's paradise,
Of innocent ghosts in its shade;
He sang of the God, and his vivacious praise
Was glories and unfeigned.
The juvenile soul he carried in arms
For worlds of distress and alarms;
The tune of his charming and heavenly song
Was left in the soul for long.
It roamed on earth many long nights and days,
Filled with a wonderful thirst,
And earth's boring songs could not ever replace
The sounds of heaven it lost.
― Mikhajl Jurijevič Lermontov

†This was Khruščjev’s propaganda boast, it was not Gagarin, who was a christian.

No comments: