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by Alexander ORLOV, Chief Specialist, Russian State Archives of Scientific and Technical Documentation
2004 is the 70th anniversary of the man whose flight into space marked a stage in the progress of terrestrial civilization. This person is Yuri Alexeevich Gagarin (1934 - 1968).
The tempestuous progress of Soviet missile and space technology and astronautics following Yuri Gagarin's space flight (April 12, 1961) produced volumes of publications on the subject. It was, therefore, not accidental that April 1974 saw the establishment of the State Filing Center of Space Documentation later transformed into the Russian State Archive of Scientific and Technical Documentation (RSASTD) with a branch in Samara. With time its scope has been expanded. Presently, RSASTD (Moscow) stores scientific and technical (research, design, engineering, technological), managerial and audiovisual documentation supplied by research, design, engineering and technological federal-level organizations located in Moscow and Moscow region. The archive now stores over 2 million files of civilian and defense industry agencies and enterprises from the late 19th century to this day. But the emphasis is still on astronautics - related materials. They include over 220 thous. units of issue reflecting the history of the fledgling and growth of domestic missile and space technology, key trends of the program and phases of outer space practical exploration starting with 1930s. Here one can find engineering developments of first ballistic missiles, Vostok spacecraft, three-stage rocket boosters for launching space vehicles to the Moon, Mars and Venus. Of truly immense interest is the unique collection of audio records of communication sessions between the Mission Control Center and orbiting crews and the collection of photo materials (over 100 thousand units of storage) and the fund of recorded reminiscences by the veterans of Russian astronautics. The central place belongs by right to documents related to Yuri Gagarin.
The successful launch in the USSR of the world's first satellite on October 4, 1957 was also a claim for this country's lead in manned flights. In the early 1959 the Inter-agency Commission for Space Research, chaired by Academician
Mstislav Keldysh (USSR Academy of Sciences President since 1961), met in Moscow. It was decided to go ahead with our plans and candidate astronauts were to be selected from among air force fighter pilots. The legal framework for that was created by resolutions of the Communist Party Central Committee of January 5, 1959 and the Government of May 22, 1959, respectively. Organization of pilots' training was charged to Lieutenant General Nikolai Kamanin. It is him who has broken the ground for the Cosmonauts Training Center (CTC) and a little later for the famous Star Town near Moscow. Colonel Yevgeny Karpov was appointed in February 1960 the first CTC head. Earlier he, as a specialist of the State Test Research Institute of Aeronautical and Space Medicine with the USSR Ministry of Defense, took part in drafting a Manual of Instructions for cosmonaut selection approved by the Presidiums of the USSR Academy of Sciences and the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences.
Here is what colonel Karpov said about the early period of CTC activities (the audio recording was made in RSASTD on March 15, 1984; this is the first publication of the transcript):
- In summer 1958 I took command of the garrison presently known as Star Town. At that time it was a radio-technical testing ground. A year and a half later a directive of the General Staff of USSR Armed Forces launched the creation of a training facility which was the forerunner of the Cosmonauts Training Center (CTC). In March 1960 the Central Aerodrome named after Mikhail Frunze in
Moscow received the first group of candidate cosmonauts. Classes were conducted right there on ten-room premises until in the summer of the same year they moved to the Moscow region. Despite the novelty and complexity, the pace of work was so high as to allow to prepare the world's first manned space flight within the shortest possible time period-in just 13 months.
We were pressed for time since the USA had started to select and train future astronauts earlier than the USSR, back in 1958. Having won the satellite race we hated to be runner-ups in manned program.
In US they staked at experienced jet fighter test pilots with a solid flight record - 3,500 - 4,000 flight hours. As for us, we selected our candidates from among quite young blood. All of them: Yuri Gagarin, German Titov and their peers were enlisted in the corps with just 230 - 240 hours record to their credit. They were beginner pilots but very capable and quick-learning at that. Such different approaches stemmed from the fact that our designers, foremost the Chief Designer of missile and space systems Academician Sergei Korolyov, have placed the emphasis on automatics, leaving man an auxiliary, rather than key role. However, in such complex engineering structure as the spaceship it was provided that in case of automatics failure a cosmonaut would be able to step in, take over manual control and successfully complete the flight.
We had some idea of the living organism's reaction to the hostile environment, since at Korolyov's initiative starting with 1952, i.e., 9 years before the epoch-making launch, animals had been repeatedly engaged on sub-orbital and later orbital flights. But how will G-factor, weightlessness, solar radiation and space rays affect man? At that time those were tasks with many indeter-minates. Confronted with the plenty of unexpected and enigmatic, we selected future cosmonauts from among people of exceptional health. Enlisted in the corps were 20 people, and the first six were really the best of the best. Curiously, in the process of selection even the type of nervous system was taken into account. At the time we did not know who would be the first into space, therefore it was in no way incidental that the probable candidates included cholerics (German Titov, Valery Bykovsky), sanguine persons (Yuri Gagarin, Pavel Popovich) and a pronounced melancholic (Adriyan Nikolayev).
Great importance was attached to both technical training, the study of ship makeup and improvement of physical fitness. Apart from the incredible number of exhausting workouts and tests on all kinds of sumulators, all corps members were to make between 50 and 60 parachute jumps, each preceded and followed by scrupulous registration of the status of the cardio-vascular and other systems. Such measurements accompanied all test and training sessions. E.g., it was a real challenge to teach future cosmonauts proper breathing in the conditions of high G in the phases of launch into orbit and reentry deceleration, since, as they ascertained during murderous centrifuge trainings, the process of respiration
in a situation like that required great physical strain and turned into a really tough job. The State Commission which assessed the preparedness of would-be cosmonauts managed that quite impartially, since, apart from the actual test results they also reviewed the voluminous files of the drills.
Could somebody else be the first, not Gagarin? Yes, of course. Some seemingly minor detail could have become a factor of paramount importance at a certain time. Shortly before launch it became clear that the ship was heavier than planned. In that situation unexpectedly significant became ... the cosmonaut's own weight. Titov weighted 4 kg less than Gagarin, so for some time he stood a good chance of being the first even from the perspective of the Chief Designer. However, Korolyov managed to make the ship 8 kg lighter by removing some instrumentation that was not really critical for flight safety, and the probability that Gagarin would still be at the whelm of the first manned spaceship Vostok was up again.
Speaking of Gagarin, recalling his charming smile, I must say that he was a remarkable worker in the first place. His excellence in training, which he takes personal credit for, made him really special among the six. The others were ready to fly too and they passed the tests. But so many good professional and human qualities were focused in that man, such great trust in the success of the dangerous and theretofore impossible effort, such fearlessness were present, that the choice fell right on Yuri Gagarin...
RSASTD, Archive No. 385 - 01. Audio document
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