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Yuri Gagarin 50th Anniversary Links

Posted by Andrew at 4:47 PM on April 17, 2011

Image credit: NASA

To conclude our short series of posts on Yuri Gagarin’s first orbit of the Earth in Vostok 1 fifty years’ ago, I thought I might put together a few of the best links that I’ve found on the web for those who want to know more about Yuri and his historic flight.

  1. Yuri Gagarin’s Wikipedia Entry
  2. YuriGagarin50.org – A comprehensive site dedicated to the 50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s Flight Into Space
  3. BBC Gagarin 50 Years On – The BBC’s micro-site about Gagarin and space flight.
  4. Sky at Night magazine – I’m afraid you’ll have to find a bookstore or newsagents and buy this one.
  5. NASA – Yuri Gagarin – NASA’s celebration of Yuri.
  6. RIA Novosti’s Gagarin Coverage – Russia’s state-owned newsgency’s take on Yury and the celebrations.
  7. RIA Novosti’s Image Library – Do an advanced search for Gagarin and put in dates from 1960 to 1965.
  8. Astronautix – This is a fascinating site. Once you’ve finished with Gagarin, have a browse round some of the other articles.
  9. Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre – Bit difficult to navigate around and translated from Russian but some interesting stuff and photos.
  10. Yuri Gagarin Flight Video on YouTube – Just turn the sound down.
  11. Vostok 1 Mission on YouTube
  12. Propaganda Booklet
  13. Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin – Generally considered to be the best biography – available from good bookstores everywhere.

Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments.

Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin

First Orbit

Posted by Andrew at 5:09 PM on April 14, 2011

Continuing the celebration of Yuri Gagarin’s orbit of the Earth in Vostok 1 back in 1961, First Orbit is a documentary film that joins archive footage of the event with modern shots taken from the International Space Station (ISS). The filmmaker, Christopher Riley, collaborated with the European Space Agency to see if it would be possible to film the same view across the planet that Gagarin saw out of the window of his tiny spacecraft. As you might guess, it was possible, and by filming at particular time on a particular orbit, astronaut Paolo Nespoli captured a re-creation of that historic flight.

The film unfolds in real-time and includes Gagarin’s original communications with ground control, call sign Dawn. Fortunately there are English subtitles if your Russian is a bit rusty. There’s a stirring soundtrack by Philip Sheppard and it’s really quite mesmerising to watch. You almost forget that it happened 50 years ago and the real-time nature of it makes it feel that it’s unfolding as you watch.

The film is available on YouTube (below) but you can also freely download it in a variety of sizes. I’d recommend downloading the 1.9 GB hi-def version, and putting on the big TV. Set aside 108 minutes and become Yuri.

Thanks Yuri and I’m Sorry We Let You Down

Posted by Andrew at 2:31 PM on April 13, 2011

As you’ll know from all the coverage, yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic first orbit of the Earth by a human. Back in 1961 at the height of the Cold War, it was a demonstration of superiority by one superpower over another rather than any altruistic motive that sent him into space.

Regardless of how it was viewed then or now, I can’t help but feel we’ve let Yuri down. In the fifty years since then, human exploration has travelled no further than the moon and that was done in the immediate decades after his orbit. There’s no doubt that we extensively use space-based satellites for telecommunications, GPS and a myriad of other functions. And yes, the International Space Station is a remarkable achievement. But we haven’t really gone anywhere.

Let’s look at this another way. In December 1903, the Wright brothers made the first human flight. By the 1930s, there were commercial transatlantic flights and jet airliners took over the route in 1958.  So in approximately 50 years, flight went from 850 feet in 1 minute to thousands of miles at hundreds of miles per hour.

The comparison with space travel doesn’t look so good.

I understand well the arguments between human and machine space travel. The latter does give better bang-for-buck and machines can go places that we could not. But has the “PlayStation generation” become so ingrained in our psyche that we have to travel by remote control? Is there still no imperative “to boldly go”?

George Mallory, the mountaineer was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. “Because it’s there” was his reply. His journey wasn’t about the accumulation of scientific knowledge, it was about personal conquest and fighting against the odds. And it ultimately cost Mallory his life.

Physics fights against us. We like our explorers to come back and tourists want a return ticket, but this makes exploration twice as hard as the round trip isn’t always easy to achieve. But I bet you that if NASA offered one way tickets to Mars, there would be no shortage of volunteers.

I’m sure Yuri Gagarin would be disappointed with how little we have achieved now and how little we expect to achieve in the coming years for human space exploration. Regrettably we can’t ask him as he died in 1968 before we reached the moon. Yuri, thanks for freeing us from Earth back in 1961 and I’m sorry we let you down.