How to drop-in on the party

weightlessness – gagarin training, drop from lift shaft Thinking of how you might make a grand entrance at this years Yuri’s Night party? Could go for the Ivan Ivanisovich drop from above. Yuri and his fellow cosmonauts took to dropping down elevator shafts onto cushions in an attempt to replicate zero gravity. Best not try this at home, or the party!

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Launch & orbital phase

Two hours before take-off, the selected cosmonaut ascended to the top of the gantry in an elevator and climbed into the crew capsule through a round hatchway. Pad technicians then sealed the hatch into place with 36 explosive bolts. These could be fired at a moment’s notice to jettison the hatch, so that a rocket-propelled ejection seat inside the cabin could blast the cosmonaut out of the Vostok if anything went wrong during launch.

Vostok gantryOn ignition, the R-7 accelerated Vostok from standstill to 17,500 miles per hour in less than nine minutes, boosting the capsule to an orbit more than 100 miles high.

The orbital phase of a Vostok mission was uneventful. A periscope with a circular vision port allowed the cosmonaut to check the orientation of his craft against the Earth’s horizon, but apart from checking the clarity of voice communications with mission control, there was little else to do.

At the end of a mission, small rocket motors on the equipment module fired automatically to slow the craft so that it would drift down towards the Earth’s atmosphere. Four metal straps were snapped apart by small explosive charges, releasing the crew module for re-entry.

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Ivan Ivanisovich

ivan ivanisovich parachuteTRUE STORY – in March 1961 a mannequin called ‘Ivan Ivanovich’ was used to test Vostok and its ejection seat before the manned flights began. Witnesses on the ground thought that ‘Ivan’ was a real cosmonaut after he/it landed.

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Ejection before landing

Mission planners avoided splashdowns at sea, in case US Navy ships were in the recovery area with surveillance cameras at the ready. Instead the Vostok crew modules were brought down on land, safely within Soviet territory. The favoured touchdown site was in the Saratov region, near the Volga river. Soviet propaganda claimed that the Vostok crews returned to Earth inside their craft. This was not strictly true. They could not have survived the heavy capsule’s impact with the ground, but had to eject 23,000 feet before touchdown and descend under a separate parachute. Continue reading

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Who’s in charge?

Vostok was navigated mainly from the ground, via radio. The command signals were received by these large aerials. The first cosmonauts were discouraged from interfering with their flights, and there was even a coded keypad in the cabin to prevent them from operating the controls without permission from the ground. However, Gagarin had the confidence of his engineers. Code 325 was leaked to him unofficially!

vostok control system

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