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Gagarin, Yuri Alekseyevich (1934-1968)
"I don't see any god up here."

Yuri Gagarin


Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet cosmonaut who in 1961 became the first human to travel into space, as well as orbit the Earth.

Early life
Yuri Gagarin was born in Klushino near Gzhatsk, a region west of Moscow, Russia, on March 9, 1934 (the town would be renamed Gagarin in 1968 to honour Yuri), and his parents worked on a collective farm. While manual laborers are described in official reports as "peasants", this is something of an exaggeration; his mother was reportedly a voracious reader, and his father a skilled carpenter. Yuri was the third of four children, and his elder sister helped raise him while his parents worked.

Like millions of people in the Soviet Union, the Gagarin family suffered great hardship in World War II. His two elder siblings were taken away to Germany in 1943, and did not return until after the war. His teachers described Gagarin as intelligent and hard-working, if occasionally mischievous. His mathematics teacher flew in the Red Army Air Force during the war, which presumably made some substantial impression on young Gagarin.

After starting an apprenticeship in a metalworks as a foundryman, Gagarin was selected for further training at a high technical school in Saratov. While there, he joined the "AeroClub", and learned to fly a light aircraft, a hobby that began to take up an increasing proportion of his time. Through dint of effort, rather than brilliance, he reportedly mastered both; in 1955, after completing his technical schooling, he entered military flight training at the Orenburg Pilot's School.

While there he met Valentina Goryacheva, whom he married in 1957, after gaining his pilot's wings in a MiG-15. After graduating, he was posted at an airbase in Murmansk region, near the Norwegian border, where terrible weather made flying risky. As a full-grown man, Gagarin was 5 feet 2 inches (approx. 157.5cm) tall.

Career in Soviet space program

Selection and training
In 1960, an extensive search and selection process saw Yuri Gagarin, amongst 20 other cosmonauts, selected for the Soviet space program. Along with the other prospective cosmonauts, he was subjected to a punishing series of experiments designed to test his physical and psychological endurance, as well as training relating to the upcoming flight.

Out of the 20 selected, eventually the choice for the first to launch was between Gagarin and Gherman Titov, because of their excellent performance in training, as well as their physical characteristics - space was at a premium in the small Vostok cockpit. The choice of Gagarin, ultimately approved at the highest levels, was probably made due to Gagarin's modest upbringing and genial, outgoing personality, as distinct from the middle-class and somewhat aloof Titov.

Space flight
On April 12, 1961, Gagarin became the first human to travel into space in Vostok 3KA-2 (Vostok 1). His call sign in this flight was Cedar (Russian: ????). According to international media, from orbit Gagarin made the comment, "I don't see any god up here." There are however no such words in the full verbatim record of Gagarin's conversations with the Earth during the spaceflight While in orbit Gagarin was promoted "in the field" from the lowly rank of Senior Lieutenant to Major - and this was the rank at which TASS announced him in its triumphant statement during the flight.

At the time the Soviet authorities thought it was more likely he would perish during his descent than survive. Returning to Earth, Gagarin became very famous. Nikita Khrushchev rushed to his side and Gagarin issued a statement praising the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as the "organiser of all our victories". He then toured the world. Khrushchev saw Gagarin's achievement as a vindication of his policy of strengthening the Soviet Union's missile forces at the expense of conventional arms. This policy antagonised the Soviet military establishment and contributed to Khrushchev's eventual downfall.

Post-space activities
After the flight, Gagarin became an instant, worldwide celebrity, touring widely to promote the Soviet achievement. He proved quite adept at handling the publicity. However, it appeared to gradually wear him down, and he began to drink heavily - not helped by difficulties in his marriage.

In October 1961 he severely injured himself in a drunken holiday escapade while escaping with a young nurse in the Crimea. From 1962 he served as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet, but later returned to "Star City", the cosmonaut facility, where he worked on designs for a reusable spacecraft. In 1967, he was selected as backup for the first Soyuz launch. The Soyuz capsule's parachute failed during reentry and the craft crashed, killing Vladimir Komarov.

Death and legacy
Gagarin then became deputy training director of the establishment. In the process of this, he began to requalify as a fighter pilot. On March 27, 1968 he was killed in a crash of a MiG-15 UTI on a routine training flight near Kirzhach together with his instructor. It is uncertain what caused the crash, but a 1986 inquest suggests that the turbulence from a Su-11 interceptor airplane using its afterburners may have caused Gagarin's plane to go out of control. Weather conditions were also poor, which probably contributed to the inability of Gagarin and the instructor to correct before they crashed.

Rumors that Gagarin was drunk are incorrect — he passed two medical examinations before the flight, and postmortem tests found no evidence of alcohol or drugs in his system. A new theory, advanced by the original crash investigator in 2005, hypothesises that a cabin vent was accidentally left open by the crew or the previous pilot, thus leading to oxygen deprivation and leaving the crew incapable of controlling the aircraft.

The Russian press reported he stayed with the aircraft to prevent it from hitting a school, although this may have been apocryphal.

Conspiracy theories
Although Gagarin is indisputably the first man to survive space travel, there is a conspiracy theory that the Russians had previously launched two human beings into orbit prior to Gagarin, but both cosmonauts died en route or alternatively, one died while one landed off-course and was held by the Chinese government. The subject named most often in these theories is Vladimir Ilyushin, son of the famous Russian airplane designer. The Soviet government then supposedly suppressed this information to prevent bad publicity for their space program.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote in his 1960 article "'Pravda' means 'Truth'" (reprinted in Expanded Universe) that on May 15, 1960, while travelling in the Soviet Union, in Vilnius (mistakenly called by its Polish name "Vilno" throughout the article; Vilnius is far away from Soviet rocket launch sites), he was told by Red Army cadets that the Soviet Union had launched a man into orbit that day, but that later the same day it was denied by officials and that no issues of the Pravda national newspaper could be found in Vilnius, or reportedly, other Soviet cities. Heinlein wrote that there was an orbital launch (later said to be unmanned) on that day but the retro-rockets had fired while the vehicle was in the wrong attitude, so recovery efforts were unsuccessful.

According to Gagarin's biography, Starman, these rumours were likely started as a result of two Vostok missions, equipped with dummies and tape recordings of the human voice (to check if the radio worked), that were made in the period just before Gagarin's flight.

According to the NASA NSSDC Master Catalog, on May 15, 1960 Sputnik 4 with "a self-sustaining biological cabin with a dummy of a man" was launched.

References in pop culture
1. One of the first references to Gagarin is in the 1971 Paul Stookey song Ju Les Ver Negre En Cheese. Gagarin is the first "word" and first two letters of the second "word". The entire song is written in English with all the spacing between letters changed.
2. The rock band Ozma released two songs on their Russian Coldfusion EP and then again on the Doubble Donkey Disc. They were entitled "The Flight of Yuri Gagarin" and "The Landing of Yuri Gagarin".
3. Russian electronica duo PPK's track "ResuRection" features recordings of Gagarin's flight toward the end of the song.
4. PJ Harvey has a track on her album Rid of Me called "Yuri-G," where she fantasizes about the moon and being a cosmonaut.
5. Gagarin is mentioned by Captain Marko Ramius along with the Sputnik satellite in the film The Hunt for Red October as an example of the former greatness of the Soviet Union.
6. Space-rock band Hawkwind has a live concert album titled 'Bring Me the Head of Yuri Gagarin'.
7. Electronic musician Jean-Michel Jarre released a song called Hey Gagarin on his album Metamorphoses in 2000.
8. Manu Chao in his song "Infinita Tristeza" (Infinite Sadness) uses sound collages including a radio voice of Yuri Gagarin.
9. Gorki, a band from Belgium, made a song about Yuri, called Joerie and placed him on the cover of the song's album.
10. Esbjorn Svensson Trio, swedish pop/jazz trio, recorded in 1999 album called "From Gagarin's Point of View".
11. In the game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Snake gives a quote that was credited to Gargarin, "The earth was blue, and there was no God," during a discussion of Russia's first manned space flight.

 
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The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of Wikipedia.org, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
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