Tuesday, April 12, 2011

First Man in Space

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's orbital flight, when he became the first human being in space. Even today I am amazed that there are people up there on the International Space Station, eating their lunch, cutting their toenails, and sending e-mails. I can't imagine the excitement of a person doing it fifty years ago. We got humans into space before flying cars, videophones and ray guns. Looking out at the Earth, Gagarin reported something that has been more or less echoed by many space travellers since.

Облетев Землю в корабле-спутнике, я увидел, как прекрасна наша планета. Люди, будем хранить и приумножать эту красоту, а не разрушать ее!

Translation: "Orbiting the Earth in the satellite-ship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and enhance this beauty and not destroy it!" I have a poster of Gagarin, with that written on it in his handwriting. It was visible on the wall behind me during a recent Skype video-interview, and the interviewer recognized him. I'm pleased. There were a lot of things that were right about that company and I really hope they call back this week with an offer.

Sadly, Gagarin's human achievement was both driven and marred by rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, so I understand that it engendered fear instead of wonder in many Americans to know that it was a Soviet 'Kosmonaut' who was leading the way. Some animosity still lingers between the two countries, even though they are now working together on the International Space Station.

The American space program was conducted more openly than the Soviet one, with their first manned launch broadcast live on television and no chance to hide their failures. Consequently, I believe the US had higher safety standards than the USSR during the 1960s. The Soviet space agency knew their programme was dangerous, and held Gagarin back from participating in subsequent missions, not wanting to lose their poster boy. There's are rumours that the ill-fated Soyuz-1 flight that killed Vladimir Komarov departed with many unresolved problems, responding to pressure to fly over desire to be safe.

That's a lesson that gets learned over a lot. For safety to be maintained there has to be a high standard and keeping it has to be not a priority, but the priority. The maintainers have to have the knowledge, the resources and the time to do it right and everyone in the operation needs the authority to say "no" if the situation isn't up to standard. Whether you're going to into space or just to Wetaskiwin.

Update: Sarah just commented that some cities have Yuri's Night celebrations of the anniversary.

15 comments:

Sarah said...

I think there is some lingering suspicion between the US and Russians ( almost said Soviets ) but all traces of it seem to have gone from the space program.... cooperation does that.

I wish there was a Yuri's Night celebration of note in my city, and that I had a fellow cosomonaut wannabe to celebrate it with. I just love the idea of a world-wide party for space exploration. Happy 50th, Russian space program!

Fingers and Thumbs crossed for you with the interviewing company...

Brewster said...

In my business, we say that safety should not be considered a priority... because priorities can always be changed (and they frequently are). Instead, safety is a VALUE... a core concept that never changes.

Best wishes for your interview.

Cedarglen said...

Nice Post! THe part that bothers me is that most North Amerikans have never heard of Yuri and his achievment. When asked, most will answer with Alan S. or John G. as the record holder. Why? Easy. In the midst of a cold war and a Space Race, genuine achievements from the other side wer ignored my the media or given all of ten seconds on The Evening News. Thanks for correcting this for at least a few readers. -C.

A Squared said...

We got humans into space before flying cars,

Umm, by the time of Yuri Gagarin's flight, flying cars (actual ones that were able to fly) had been around for almost a quarter of a century.

Aviatrix said...

Damn, AA, so where's mine?

Aviatrix said...

Cedarglen, I'm pleased to say that when I researched this blog entry in online newspaper archives for April 12th and 13th 1961, every US newspaper I checked reported the achievement and some information from Gagarin's bio. I didn't find any editorials, but I didn't have access to a good index.

Anonymous said...

"all traces of it seem to have gone from the space program.... cooperation does that."

necessity is the mother of invention, or in this case cooperation.
With the White House having cancelled the US space program (except satellite launches) the Russians/Soviets are the only way to get heavy payloads and especially humans into space, and there's still the contracts for running the ISS which exist with them, the EU, and the Japanese that have to be met.

Design said...

RE: "Облетев Землю в корабле-спутнике, я увидел, как прекрасна наша планета. Люди, будем хранить и приумножать эту красоту, а не разрушать ее!"

A sincere phrase from Gagarin. I'm afraid this has been ignored all the time. BTW, thank you for posting this.

Frank Lee MeiDere said...

Duct tape. There are people in space relying on duct tape to keep their clipped toenails from flying around.

That is just too cool. How come Heinlein never thought of that one?

Frank Lee MeiDere said...

By coincidence, my wife just sent me this rather clever celebration of the first human in space: a flute duet between an earthbound Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull), and a high-flying Cady Coleman who is presently stationed on the ISS. It's billed as the first earth-space duet.

kbq said...

Apropos of nothing, Sulako posted a clip of an on-ground collision between a FiFi A380 and a Comair RJ.

Ah, the dangers of regional jets...

Verification: flitedni. Flight deny? Hmmmm...


Kevin

Aviatrix said...

I've was going to put up this video in a few hours, might as well give to you now.

Paul said...

Not to take away from Yuri's accomplishment (and the spirit of your post), I'm told the US's John Glen is still flying, at the age of 88, a Beechcraft P-Baron.

I am proud to and happy that he flies a Beech and that at 88 you can still be mentally and physically fit enough to drive a pressurized twin.

Still amazing after all these years.

--paul

Atlanta Roofing said...

Yuri Gagarin had no control over his spacecraft. Vostok's reentry was controlled by a computer program sending radio commands to the space capsule. Although the controls were locked, a key had been placed in a sealed envelope in case an emergency situation made it necessary for Gagarin to take control. As was planned, Cosmonaut Gagarin ejected after reentry into Earth's atmosphere and landed by parachute.

prasad said...

Russia faced so many difficulties to reach this position. If Russia didn't split in different countries no doubt it is the world's most powerful country. Russia come to this position with their (own) men power but America come to its position with different countries people effort so Russia is the greatest country like India.