April 11, 2011

First Man in Space Wanted To Fly Again

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin turned in to an international icon when he became the first man to travel in to space 50 years ago. In her first interview with Western media, his daughter Elena Gagarina explains how his historic mission changed their lives forever.

"He desperately wanted to fly in space again. He'd enjoyed that first flight, but it was over so quickly!

"He wanted to go on being a cosmonaut and a pilot, and he was unhappy that he wasn't allowed to fly again."

Elena Gagarina was two years old when her father flew in to orbit.

Until then, the family had been living at the Murmansk airbase on the Arctic circle, where her father was a test pilot.

One day in 1959, a recruiting gang came to the airbase to select candidates for the first-ever cosmonaut training programme.

Out of the 2200 pilots they tested throughout Russia, 20 got through.

For 11 months, the cosmonaut trainees were put through an extraordinarily gruelling programme, designed to test mental and physical strength to the limits of human endurance, since no-one had a clue what would happen to men in space.

"One of the training techniques involved the isolation chamber," explained Elena.

"Cosmonauts were placed in a small sealed chamber, with no windows.

"They couldn't wear watches, and they had no idea how long they'd be in there for.

"Sometimes they were in there for 21 days, with temperatures rising to over 50C or plunging to -50C," she said.

From the group of 20 trainees, six were selected for the final stage.

Yuri Gagarin only knew two days before the flight that he had been chosen to go first.

I asked Elena whether her father's personality was a factor in his selection - and whether his famous smile played a part.

"Yes. He was outgoing and engaging," she said.

"But all six pilots in the first group of cosmonauts were incredibly well-trained, even over-trained, because no-one knew what the effects of space would be on the human body.

"All the first cosmonauts were trained to take decisions very quickly.

"My father had especially quick reactions in difficult circumstances, and I think this was what finally decided in his favour," she said.

"But he was also exceptionally fit. He was 27, and he didn't know what it meant to feel internal pain.

"He would say to us that he couldn't imagine what it felt like to have something wrong inside.

"He was also phenomenally calm and mentally disciplined. For example, if he came home during the day and was tired, he'd say, 'I have 40 minutes to sleep, I am very tired'.

"He then slept for 40 minutes and woke up on the dot, without needing an alarm clock or anyone to wake him."

Gagarin's life, and those of his family, were to change for ever after his safe return to earth on 12 April 1961.

No comments:

Google Search

powered by Blogger | WordPress by Newwpthemes