In the recording of Yuri’s transmission from Vostok he speaks clearly and rapidly, a professional pilot, delivering his report, although with an underlying, high-tension excitement. But when I put the words down on the page, I notice something strange. He begins as you might expect, with a dry, technical report: all systems normal, no ill effects from zero gravity. But then he begins to give his observations on the earth. In the recording his rapid speech runs steadily on, but on the page, I fancy I can almost feel time stretching out in his speeding brain, as suddenly, the titanic impact of what he is seeing begins to make itself felt. His voice remains steady, but the words become bigger, more abstract, more awestruck, more like the words of a poet than a pilot. “I can see the clouds, I can see everything. It’s beautiful!”Yuri Gagarin in space

I was very struck too, by the account in his memoir of the inner thoughts that were going through his head during the flight. The sudden incongruous childhood memory, perhaps a reflection of his incredible vulnerability at that moment, and again, the poetic vision of earth. It is something reported by many who have followed in Yuri’s footsteps. You cannot see what he saw and be unchanged. Every cosmonaut and astronaut so far, has come back, just a little more of a poet, an artist or a philosopher than they went. Yuri was the first man to see something we perhaps all need to see: Earth as an island, infinitely alone, infinitely precious. This was really the moment when Tsiolkovski’s dream of spaceflight turned into something even more marvellous than the technical achievement.

For the left page, where we are finally in space, I set up a solid black background, then created a ‘white’ pen in Manga StudioEX (™) to provide something like a ‘scraper board’ effect. A radial blend provided the faint haze of the Earth’s atmosphere. On the right, I switched back to the normal white background, but used a big radial blend to focus on Yuri’s face.

Looking at it now, I can see this spread continues my fascination with sequential diagrams, so that there are really two stories running side by side here: The story of Vostok’s operation as a spacecraft, and the story of what is going on in Yuri’s mind.

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