Yuri Gagarin was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut who was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on April 12th, 1961.
Gagarin was one of the 20 cosmonauts selected by Korolev for the Soviet space program.
Gagarin once said about those who were not meant to be sent to space, “There is one thing that unites all of them – it is their desire to become good pilots, cosmonauts. Space is calling for them. And it always will. Like an eternal call”.
Gagarin and other prospective cosmonauts were subjected to experiments designed to test physical and psychological endurance and carried out by a medical committee.
Gagarin had good eyesight and a strong and healthy heart and lungs. He successfully passed all vestibular experiments.
Gagarin’s ability to adjust to vibration, overload and hypoxia was amazing.
Gagarin successfully passed all psychological tests. He proved to have a high degree of intellectual development, fantastic memory, sharp and far-ranging sense of attention to his surroundings, well-developed imagination and quick reactions.
The antiorthostatic test was one of the most difficult tests for Gagarin. The cosmonaut was fastened to a table and had to lay still for a long time in different positions (including upside down) to reveal possible pathologies.
His ability to focus and memory were tested in the shaker, altitude chamber and centrifuge. Gagarin had a right to refuse further testing any minute and leave the testing center but he wasn’t going to give up.
He was also a good physiologist and could comfort any person in trouble.
Test after test, he would read another “fit” in his medical record. He knew that the centrifuge – a device that tests the reactions and tolerance of pilots and astronauts to acceleration above those experienced in the Earth’s gravity – destroyed dreams of many pilots and cosmonauts and he tried to do his best when it was time for him to take a centrifuge test.
He was weighted (68 kg) to balance the centrifuge and fastened inside. Gagarin was to push the buttons to turn off the lights which were situated right in front of his eyes. The test was passed successfully.
All further centrifuge tests were completed. The medical committee tested 250 pilots and Gagarin was one of the 20 people who passed all the tests, including the centrifuge.
In March, 1960 the team of cosmonauts-to-be was transported to a city in the Moscow Region that was named Star City by Gagarin.
The cosmonauts were lectured on rocket structure and its systems, space medicine, space communications, etc. Korolev spent more and more time with the cosmonauts trying to determine psychophysiological peculiarities of each of them.
When the cosmonauts had some leisure time, they played volleyball, basketball (Gagarin was the best player despite the fact he was short), other ball games, exercised on the trampoline, swings, etc.
Continuous exercising resulted in improving Gagarin’s performance and helped him prepare for parachute jumping. He had his first parachute jump in May, 1960 outside Engels.
He performed his first parachute jump excellent. He was calm, focused and confident. He quickly mastered his skilles in body control in flight.
The next test Gagarin was to take was a “silence chamber”. Gagarin was to remain inside the silence chamber – isolated from the rest of the world, people, light and sounds – for 10 days doing exercises and fulfilling certain tasks. His heart rate and respiratory rate were regularly measured.
His menu included soup, smoked sausage, melted cheese and bread. Staying in that chamber, Gagarin never gave way to despair, read and sang songs. When the door of the chamber opened 10 days later, he came out as healthy, cheerful and kind-hearted, as he had always been.
Gagarin received As for each of the three weightlessness tests he took. After that, they were let inside the Vostok.
On April 10th, 1961 the state committee chose Gagarin as the one to be sent to space and Titov as Gagarin’s backup man.
Prior to his departure, Gagarin made a speech which was broadcast throughout the Soviet Union and retransmitted worldwide.
“All my life now appears to be one happy moment,” Gagarin said mere minutes before entering his spaceship. “Everything that was lived and done before was achieved for this moment alone.”
The flight went as planned.
His open, triumphant smile, both upon landing and minutes before take-off, instantly became a worldwide symbol of the space age.