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Wednesday, April 1, 1998 Published at 07:01 GMT 08:01 UK

Special Report

"The first cosmonaut in the world is in space"
image: [ Gagarin in space ]
Gagarin in space

[ image: Preparing the Vostok satellite]
Preparing the Vostok satellite
The air force command recommended Senior Lieutenant Gagarin for the first space flight with Gherman Titov as stand-in.

On April 12 1961, after years of rocket development and 11 months of intensive cosmonaut training, the first manned space flight was about to take place.

Gagarin was superbly prepared for his encounter with history, both physically and technologically - on the night before his flight while others paced and worried, "Cosmonaut One" slumbered.

Asked how he could sleep so peacefully on the eve of the launching, Yuri answered: "Would it be right to take off if I were not rested? It was my duty to sleep so I slept."

Gagarin reported to Korolev at the testing ground and entered the capsule - a spherical part of the spaceship about 2 metres in diameter, protected by an ablative material for re-entry.

[ image: Vostok takes off]
Vostok takes off
Wearing his protective suit, the pilot was strapped into an ejection seat equipped with the necessary communications gear and parachute.

Even when a temporary problem was discovered with the capsule's hatch minutes before blast-off, Gagarin maintained his characteristic cheerfulness and never stopped smiling as the hatch closed.

He was heard quietly whistling a song about the Motherland as Korolev ordered the launch.

In an interview, Gagarin described the event: "At seven past nine Moscow time I felt the powerful rocket boosters. Everything was vibrating, and then, very slowly, I took off."

Confident as ever, Gagarin shouted "Let's go!" as he began the journey that would take him round the earth and back again.

[ image: Into orbit]
Into orbit
"I felt the pressure of the g-forces on my body," Gagarin said a few months later. "They pushed me right down into my seat. It was difficult to move my arms. I knew it wouldn't be long until the rocket left the earth's gravitational pull and I was in orbit."

When it was obvious that Gagarin had made it into orbit, the Kremlin ordered the Russian news agency, Tass to make a prepared broadcast.

The official announcement said simply: "The first cosmonaut in the world is in space."

Two further announcements had been prepared in advance. One asked for help in rescuing a cosmonaut who had fallen to earth outside Soviet territory. And the other announced his death.


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