A View from Germany: The First in Human History

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I am an earthling Gagarin,

human son:

Russian, Greek and Bulgarian,

Australian and Finn.

I embody you all

like a rush to heaven.

My name is random.

I myself am not accidental.

Evgeny Evtushenko

Do they know the first astronaut in Germany?

The date April 12, 1961 defines the beginning of a new era for all mankind – the era of manned space flights. On this day sixty years ago, at 9 hours 6 minutes 59.7 seconds Moscow time, the first ever spacecraft-satellite “Vostok” with cosmonaut Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin on board was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome. The spacecraft was launched into orbit with an altitude of 181 km at a perigee and an apogee of 327 km. After the completion of the 108-minute flight, at 10:55 am, the descent vehicle and the cosmonaut successfully landed near the village of Smelovka, Ternovsky district, Saratov region.

His flight lasted less than two hours, but caused a colossal resonance in the world. Gagarin became a celebrity. In the minds of people, Yuri was a man who seemed to come from a wonderful future. 60 years have passed since that day (!), And the road to the stars, paved by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, his outstanding associates and the first cosmonaut in the world, is now available to cosmonauts and astronauts from many countries. During this time, about 500 representatives from different parts of the planet have visited space. In general, an event of this kind has already ceased to be something extraordinary, having turned into a routine. Moreover, today the entry of applicants to Mars has already been announced, so perhaps in the near future the time will come when it will be possible to fly into space on an excursion.

However, the first astronaut on Earth, who would have turned 85 on March 9 this year, was and will forever remain the first to travel to the unknown galaxy. And the brave discoverers, as you know, get a place of honor on the walk of fame of world history.


Historical mission

… became possible thanks to the scientific and technological revolution in the field of rocketry in the second half of the 1950s. It was then that the Vostok spacecraft and its launch vehicle were created, developed and built by the team of the Moscow Region Experimental Design Bureau No. 1 (today RSC Energia) under the leadership of the Chief Designer of rocket and space technology, the founder of practical cosmonautics, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. Despite the lack of sufficient practical knowledge obtained as a result of real tests, and despite all the doubts of scientists (whether the spacesuit will withstand cosmic radiation, whether the body will endure a long stay in zero gravity, etc.), the space competition with the United States, which was gaining momentum, pushed the leadership The USSR would take the risk and launch a man into space so that for the first time in history he would make at least one revolution around our planet. The role of the first cosmonaut (and in fact – a suicide bomber) was chosen by the 27-year-old naval pilot Yuri Gagarin.

Long way to dream

The pre-war childhood of the future “hope of mankind”, as it will be called in more than two decades, passed in the village of Klushino, Gzhatsky district, Smolensk region. Father Alexei Ivanovich worked at the mill, mother Anna Timofeevna was a milkmaid, later – the head of a cattle farm. On September 1, 1941, the boy went to school, and a month later the village was occupied by German troops. A family with small children was forced to settle in a dugout, since a German workshop was now located in their house. Gagarin’s father, a local carpenter, subjected to daily executions by the invaders, was forced to work there. Retreating, the Nazis burned down most of the houses and hijacked young people to work, including Yuri’s brother and sister. Fortunately, in 1945, Soviet troops liberated the Gagarins, and they were able to return home. The boy, who forever remembered the picture of how mothers ran after the car that took away the children, and the Germans drove them away with their rifle butts, never again spoke about the war years, or about the first meetings with those who brought grief to his homeland. After the village was liberated by units of the Red Army, the boy actively began his studies, but after the sixth grade he was forced to go to Moscow – he had to feed his family. From there he moved to Saratov to master the scarce profession of a master foundry. I didn’t master it, but I found my true passion – Heaven. In October 1954, Gagarin firmly decided to become a pilot and enrolled in the Saratov flying club, where he quickly mastered the theory. received admission to the Yak-18 light trainer. A year later, the military registration and enlistment office sent Yuri to the First Chkalov Military School of Pilots (now the Orenburg Higher Military Aviation School named after Polbin). The newly minted cadet was lucky: a new jet fighter-interceptor MiG-15bis was adopted for service, pilots were urgently needed for it. Not without problems. Due to his short stature, Gagarin could hardly see the ground when landing and made mistakes that threatened to be expelled. Senior officers, seeing his great desire to fly, helped the young pilot: on the advice of the instructor, Yuri began to put a pillow on the chair.

In 1958, there was still no consensus on who should be sent into space first – a rocket scientist, test pilot, military diver, doctor … The final decision was made by chief designer Sergei Korolev, who suggested recruiting young pilots with secondary education in the cosmonaut corps. service in distant garrisons. Among them was Yuri Gagarin, who passed the strictest medical examination and successfully passed the tests at the stands. His ability not to lose his presence of mind in any situation invariably aroused the sympathy of the “examiners”.

And in 1960, Gagarin’s dream became a reality – he was accepted into the cosmonaut corps. And then there was a flight and world fame that collapsed overnight.

“The people are rejoicing! Yuri Gagarin in Moscow! “

The first page of Izvestia on April 14, 1961 reported this event with a huge headline. And there was no pathos, which was customary for that era, in this – perhaps for the first time since May 9, 1945, people were completely sincerely happy. In addition, the solemn meeting itself, arranged almost spontaneously, thanks to the sudden movement of the soul of Nikita Khrushchev, was different from the usual Soviet patterns.

After landing in Vnukovo, the first cosmonaut in an open car proceeded along Leninsky Prospekt towards Red Square, where he was greeted by crowds of Muscovites with flowers, balloons and homemade banners, many people stood on the roofs of houses, some hung from balconies. People’s love, striking in its sincerity, developed for this simple guy from the village of Klushino, who said: “Let’s go!” and reaching out to the stars, somehow by itself. A month later, Yuri went on his first foreign tour, having traveled to more than 30 countries. It sounds incredible today, but Gagarin flew regular regular Aeroflot flights and signed autographs to passengers in the cabin. From the famous smile to small details, like the untied lace at Vnukovo, everything in Gagarin was too human, which could not but surprise the opponents of the Soviet system.

In October 1963 …

… on their way from New York, where Yuri Gagarin and the first woman-cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova were received by the United Nations, they stopped in East Germany. According to unconfirmed reports, the chairman of the State Council of the GDR Walter Ulbricht allegedly personally asked Khrushchev about this. Thus, he wanted to demonstrate to the people, many of whose representatives were actively looking for an opportunity to overcome the then already erected Berlin Wall, what prospects friendship with the Soviet Union could give the GDR.

Yuri Gagarin and V. Tereshkova in Berlin in 1963. Foto Wikipedia.org

Despite the political background, Gagarin’s meeting turned out to be bright and solemn, akin to those that have already taken place in Moscow and other cities of the world. The flags waving hundreds of thousands of East Germans in Berlin, Karl-Marx-Stadt (present-day Chemnitz) and other cities did not at all resemble the obligatory characters of a pre-written script. People took to the streets to see the real heroes of their time. Their emotions really came from the heart. While in Erfurt, Gagarin drove through the city in an open car. Along the entire route of the cosmonaut, previously published in the local press, there was literally the whole city.

The cosmonauts gratefully accepted the honors and pioneer greetings, admired the achievements of the GDR, shook hands and signed autographs. According to rumors, in one of the cities, a local excellent student was trained for the role of a girl giving Gagarin flowers. But at the moment of presentation, the crowd, pressing from all sides, violated the scenario order and a completely different girl presented the bouquet to the astronaut, who forever preserved this event in her memory. Local television broadcasters even managed to cope with the technical task of organizing a teleconference, which was inconceivable at that time, connecting in live broadcast the speeches of Gagarin and Tereshkova, who were in Erfurt and then Karl-Marx-Stadt (today Chemnitz).

In the GDR there was much more information about the first cosmonaut of the planet than in the FRG. So, according to the memoirs of Gerhard Thiele, one of more than a dozen German astronauts, he did not even know about Gagarin’s flight into space. No wonder, because such information was kept in secret. And only after a successful landing, the big news was reported to the public. Perhaps that is why the world’s first cosmonaut was never such a prominent figure for Thiele as the American Neil Armstrong, who first set foot on the lunar surface. And only when in 2003 Thiele was trained at Star City as a backup for an astronaut from the Netherlands, he was really impressed with how carefully the memory of Yuri Gagarin is kept there. Another German cosmonaut, already from a new galaxy – Matthias Maurer, whose flight to the ISS on the American SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is scheduled for the fall of 2021, admits that the closer the start, the “more respect” he has for Gagarin’s feat.

The Berlin Wall is gone for a long time …

Germany became united again, but the memory of Gagarin remained there. In more than 20 cities, located mostly in the former eastern lands, there are still many streets named after him. For example, one of them, in Erfurt, was renamed right on the eve of the cosmonaut’s visit, before that it bore the name of Mao Zedong. In a number of cities in Germany, mainly in the east of the country, sculptural monuments to Gagarin were unveiled. So, the works of sculptors Sergei Oleshnia and Anatoly Dementyev are in Chemnitz at the Cosmonautics Center, named after the first German cosmonaut Sigmund Jena, as well as in the German Museum of Cosmonautics, located in his homeland in Morgenreth-Rautenkrantz. The bust of Gagarin is installed within the walls of the European Astronaut Training Center in Cologne. There is a unique monument to the first cosmonaut in Bonn. The story of its appearance is not entirely common. During the demolition of one of the houses, the facade of which was decorated with sculptures of a number of great people who once glorified mankind, its former owner, who remained unnamed, stole Gagarin’s head and installed it on the roof of his house in the Bad Godesberg district. Since all the neighbors are aware of its origin, this is not surprising to anyone.

Otherwise, if we talk about preserving the memory of Gagarin, then the citizens of the country are not particularly zealous. People from the former Soviet Union bring flowers to the astronaut’s monument in Erfurt on Cosmonautics Day, and many in the western federal states are still convinced that the first astronaut of the planet was American astronaut Neil Armstrong.

However, in fairness, we note that in Erfurt, as it turned out, many townspeople remember well the cosmonaut’s performance on the main cathedral square and carefully keep his autographs in family archives. According to Kevin Anding, organizer of Gagarin’s Days in Berlin, several years ago a woman came to the German capital to participate in this event … from the Hawaiian Islands, who was in Erfurt during Gagarin’s stay there. On that day, while still quite a girl, she gave him flowers and Yuri Alekseevich stroked her head. Who knows if this lucky woman from the legend, by the will of fate, found herself next to the legendary conqueror of the planet’s outer space instead of a trained pioneer-excellent student ?! Like many other things, the story is silent about this …


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