30. GIVEN HALF A CHANCE

Fifty percent. That’s how some people reckoned Yuri’s chances of making it back. Asked about this afterwards, Yuri was dismissive: ‘Sometimes people trip over and break their necks walking along the ground.’ gagarin high altitude rocket capsule ejection

This page tries to tell the story of the moment when it very nearly all went wrong. The Vostok orbiter consisted of two modules: The ball shaped capsule containing the pilot, and the cone shaped instrument and power pack. Before re-entry, the instrument pack had to be discarded, leaving just the heat-resistant steel sphere to face the buffeting and high temperatures of re-entry.

Anyone who has tried to pull out a multi-pin computer cable that didn’t want to let go, will have a feeling for what happened next. Explosive charges were supposed to blow the plug out of its socket, disconnecting the bundle of power and data cables between the two modules. The plug refused to be blown. It was pure luck that the heat of re-entry burned through the cables just in time. What happened next though, had much more to do with Yuri’s judgement than with luck. How he managed to think clearly, while sitting in what was basically a washing machine on spin cycle, I cannot imagine. I guess that kind of ability is what makes a cosmonaut.

The Vostok capsule, even with its parachute, would hit the ground too fast for a safe landing. Instead, the cosmonaut had to eject and parachute down separately. Ground control warn Yuri not to eject too early, where the air is still very thin and the capsule still falling fast. As a trained parachutist however, Yuri knows that there is a terrible danger that his now spinning capsule will tangle the parachute lines of his ejector seat. He also knows that there are techniques for untangling them, but that they need time, and therefore, altitude. He makes the decision to eject early.

It’s a tense sequence of events that might have lasted several minutes on film, but here it has to be told in a few frames. Once more I found myself creating images that were half movie stills, half diagrams.

This entry was posted in Making a Graphic Novel, The Book, Yuri Gagarin, YURI's DAY, Yuri's Flying Machines, Yuri's life. Bookmark the permalink.

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