If Richard Branson and other “space” tourist entrepreneurs get their way we could soon see the start of trips in orbit around the planet Earth, albeit for an astronomical price. We may come to see this as normal but once upon a time, the conquering of space was seen as the pinnacle of human endeavour. Before any of this though was a diminutive, highly intelligent Russian man named Yuri Gagarin and he did it first.
We may well see space tourism on offer here in the UK in the future, but we are lucky to have some of the most diverse landscapes around and we can ‘orbit’ our own land in a variety of ways; on foot, by rail with Welsh Coast Campervans. A campervan holiday needs the perfect stop off locations like those found on https://www.outandaboutlive.co.uk/motorhomes/articles/general/parking-your-motorhome-in-wales. There was, unfortunately, no stop offs for Yuri on his space travels.
At the time of Yuri’s expedition, the world was gripped by the Space Race. This was a competition between the United States America and the Soviet Union (Russia mainly and lots of other East European countries) as they both tried to be the first to conquer space. The Soviets had the best of the first half. Yuri’s flight was in 1961 powered by a Vostok Spacecraft. He completed an orbit commenting on the rivers, cities and countries and their coastline. Naturally, this scared the living daylights out of the Americans who immediately thought that it would mean an invasion. It also meant that the Soviets were well ahead of the USA in the space race.
Why did they pick Yuri? There were quite a few reasons. First off, he was only 5 feet 2 inches high. Being small was a big advantage when the primary requirement was being crammed into a tiny cockpit as the most important part was the enormous rocket behind him needed to get him into space in the first place. Yuri was also highly intelligent particularly in maths which was needed for the calculations in space. Above all, though he had an ability to remember and describe his surrounds perfectly and have the quick reactions that may be needed in a crisis. Not bad for a man who at one point was forced to live in a mud hut for over a year by Nazi’s. This was another factor in his favour, he came from very ordinary origins, perfect for the image that the Soviets wanted to put across. His Dad was a labourer on a collective farm and his mum, a milkmaid. He started out working in a steelworks and part-time as a dock worker. He made sure he got a full education even studying tractors at one point. Yuri only started flying as a weekend hobby with the local Soviet Air club. After graduating he was drafted into the Soviet Airforce flying dangerous weather effected missions in the North of Russia. He was picked out to join the space program where he was subjected to lots of physical and mental tests passing with flying colours.
As his orbit came to an end Yuri whistled an old patriotic song “the Motherland knows where her son flies in the sky”. Maybe then a quick burst of Rule Britannia when you go up? As a tribute to the first one Yuri Gagarin.