“Let’s go!” – Yuri Gagarin on Vostok 1: one hundred eight minutes that changed history

Kamila Zakirova
Yuri Gagarin

Have you seen a 10-floor building? Just imagine, everything down there is fuel, and you are on top, sitting in a small ball. The fuel is ignited, and people are telling you: "Don't worry Yuri, you are coming back. We calculated everything".

The phrase is taken from an old joke but accurately describes the image of April 12, 1961. Yuri Gagarin had the courage to do something no one did before. According to estimates, the successful outcome of the flight that took Gagarin into outer space was only around 46 percent, which was strongly influenced by the Space Race between the US and USSR.

This year the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the first human flight into space. On April 12, 1961, Soviet Union launched the space capsule "Vostok-1" from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The ship made one round around the Earth and landed in the Saratov region. The overall time of flight was 1 hour and 48 minutes. Yuri Gagarin received the Hero of the Soviet Union title, and April 12 became a national holiday – Cosmonautics Day.  

The first human space flight

On April 12, 1961, at 9:07 a.m., Sergei Korolev (the first human space flight was carried out under his leadership) gave the command to ignite the engine. As soon as the rocket took off, Gagarin exclaimed that famous phrase: "Poekhali!" (Let's go!), which is now a symbol of the new space era.

It is pertinent to note here that "Vostok 1" had only one braking system, as it was assumed that the main spacecraft would leave orbit in a few days in case of failure. However, in a new orbit, the spacecraft would need several dozen days to return to the atmosphere, so the failure of the braking engines would mean a long and painful death for the astronaut from hunger, thirst, or oxygen deprivation.

Before the flight, it was unknown how the human psyche could react to space conditions, so special protection against pilot insanity was implemented inside the ship. To fly the ship, Gagarin had to switch to manual control. For this, he had to solve a mathematical problem and find out the access code to the control panel.

Celebration in Russia

COVID-19 impacted the celebration of Cosmonautic Day in 2021. Although there is a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, mass events remained limited, and the focus is mainly on installations and digital exhibitions.

This year in St. Petersburg, on April 12, "Singing Bridges" showed a laser projection with a portrait of Yuri Gagarin and the spaceship "Vostok-1". In Veliky Novgorod, a composition was built from drones, rockets, and satellites.  

From April 13 to September 12, Cosmonautics Museum in Moscow hosts the exhibition "The First", where the original spaceship "Vostok" is presented. From April 1 to May 3 at the Tverskoe Boulevard, the capital holds an archival photo exhibition, "Moscow welcomes the First". Russian space agency Roscosmos opened a special digital section devoted to Yuri Gagarin and honored astronauts.

About the author

Kamila Zakirova is a first-year Master’s student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Erfurt, Germany. She studied Sociology in Corvinus University of Budapest. Has professional experience of working at different humanitarian NGOs and at research organizations

~ The views represented in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Brandt School. ~