A date for history
April 12, 1961 dawned like any other day. There was nothing to suspect that this date would mark the beginning of the era of manned space travel. Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, preparations were under way in a remote part of the Kazakh steppe to launch a spaceship with "Cosmonaut No. 1". Like the exact location of the Tyura-Tam Cosmodrome (later known as Baikonur), its identity was top secret. The protagonist of the feat would be a young 27-year-old Soviet pilot named Yuri Alexeievich Gagarin, born into a humble family of Kolkhoz farmers.
A rocket awaited the cosmonaut on the same ramp from where an R-1957 Semyorka missile ("seven" in Russian) had taken off almost four years earlier (7) with the first artificial satellite in history, the famous Sputnik 1. In fact, the rocket was a variant of the venerable and robust Semyorka to which a third stage had been added to increase its payload. Its official designation was 8K82K, but it would be known by the same name as the spacecraft it was supposed to put into orbit, Vostok ("East" in Russian).
While the launcher was preparing for takeoff, Gagarin and his deputy, Gherman Titov, slept a couple of kilometers away in a small cabin. Or rather, they made them sleep, because the cosmonauts had been unable to sleep all night. At 5:30 a.m. in Moscow, the doctors woke up the two men. After breakfast and a final medical examination, they donned their striking orange Sokol SK-1 pressure suits to facilitate rescue operations. At 6 am they met Grigori Nelyubov - the third alternate cosmonaut - and headed for the launch pad aboard a small bus. The rocket was already loaded with fuel, ready to go. There, the legendary Chief Engineer, Sergey Korolev, responsible for the Vostok program and creator of the R-30 rocket, awaited them.
The first trip
This first space trip would be very short and would consist of a single orbit around the Earth. The Vostok flew over the southern regions of South America and headed towards the African continent. Forty minutes after take-off, the vehicle's automatic guidance system kicked into gear, lining up the spacecraft in the opposite direction to orbital advance in anticipation of the impending braking ignition. While flying over Africa and while it was still about five thousand miles from its landing site, the Vostok fired its small TDU engine to slow down. Not much, but enough so that its trajectory now intersected the higher layers of the atmosphere.
The power-up goes off without a hitch, but Gagarin soon realizes that something is wrong. The spherical capsule (SA) in which it is located should have separated from the service module (PA) shortly after the end of the braking maneuver, but the expected separation does not take place. If the spacecraft enters the atmosphere at 28.000 km / h with the service module still attached, the capsule will be seriously damaged, probably killing its passenger. Gagarin feels the Vostok spinning rapidly around all its axes as the atmospheric friction begins to make itself felt. It's a life or death situation, but Yuri remains calm. The temperature outside increases rapidly, as does the deceleration. Fortunately, ten minutes after braking, the reentry heat eventually melts the fasteners that held the sphere to the service module. The capsule, finally free, is automatically oriented so that its heat shield can cope with the almost 3.000ºC temperature. Surrounded by a ball of plasma, Gagarin now feels the deceleration (negative acceleration) increase progressively until his weight is eight times the usual. But the young pilot is undeterred. His training has prepared him for this occasion.
At the end of the critical reentry phase, the spacecraft continues in free fall through the atmosphere. At seven kilometers up, the rear hatch of the capsule is separated by the action of several explosive bolts and immediately afterwards Gagarin is ejected in his seat by the action of several thrusters. Next, Yuri's parachute unfolds, initiating a slow descent to the ground. Gagarin can see a large river in the distance, so he correctly assumes that it must be the Volga. Just at that moment, the duffel bag with the emergency parachute comes off unexpectedly, hanging at his feet. Yuri fears for a moment that the secondary parachute will open and entangle with the main parachute, but nothing happens and she breathes calmly again. Due to the late separation from the service module, the landing site differs significantly from that expected, so there is no rescue team waiting for you. But Gagarin doesn't care. As he descends, he knows that the hardest part of the mission is over. The weather is magnificent: a wonderful sunny spring day welcomes the first cosmonaut as he makes a soft landing at 11:00 a.m. on April 12, 1961. Gagarin doesn't know it yet, but he has made landfall near Smelovka, a small town in the Saratov region.
After 60 years
Now, after 60 years, space research plays an increasingly important role for all of humanity. The Soviet Union has always advocated the peaceful use of outer space as an exclusive area of cooperation, and Russia honors that tradition by maintaining extensive international ties in the area of the peaceful exploration and use of outer space.
On March 30, 2021, within the framework of the meeting of the co-chairs of the Russia-Venezuela high-level Intergovernmental Commission, the Intergovernmental Agreement on Cooperation in the Exploration and Peaceful Use of Outer Space was signed, which would open up new opportunities for the scientific-technical cooperation between Russia and Venezuela. This legal instrument not only confirms the aspiration of our countries to maintain outer space as an area of peaceful cooperation but also implies several mutually beneficial practical aspects.
The potential for cooperation under the agreement represents a wide range of possibilities for the application of complex space technologies in everyday life. It involves the installation of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) station, development in the field of remote sensing, telecommunications, etc. Most importantly, these technologies will help make the most advanced infrastructure, the most stable connection and our lives more secure.
The objectives of space exploration and the peaceful uses of outer space are beneficial grounds for fruitful international cooperation in which countries large and small can participate effectively. The number of tasks in outer space exploration cannot be covered by a single country, whatever its scientific or technical level. The aim is to maintain outer space as an exclusive sphere of peaceful investigation, of joint exploration for the common good and not to carry the old conflicts and prejudices in the rocket queues, turning the universe into a battlefield for geopolitical selfish interests.