Fifty years ago today, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin rode his Vostok 1 spacecraft into Earth orbit -- Man had reached Space. That first flight lasted 1 hour 48 minutes. In contrast, NASA's first two manned missions into space would be aboard the suborbital Mercury/Redstone combination -- those May and July 1961 flights combined totaled just a few seconds more than 31 minutes, start to finish. Titov's Vostok 2 flight 7 August 1961 lasted 25 hours 18 minutes. CCCP ruled Space in 1961.
John Glenn's orbital mission would be nearly a year later on 20 February 1962, just shy of five hours flightime.
In a little over two years, 19 July 1963, NASA's X-15 rocket plane program would place its first astronaut in space by non-capsule means, a suborbital harbinger of the future Space Shuttle by virtue of the X-15 flying above the Kármán line, 100 km above the surface of the Earth. ***
In just fifteen years, the United States would run through their entire capsule-era space program -- Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Apollo Applications -- and by the 15th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's flight we would be waiting for the Space Shuttle. It would be another five years.
Sunday 12 April 1981
Twenty years later to the day, NASA would finally get back into manned space missions with the first flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1). Seven months later, Thursday 12 November 1981, Columbia would fulfill its promise as a reusable space vehicle on STS-2.
Tuesday 12 April 2011
So here we are at the 50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's flight and the 30th Anniversary of the Space Shuttle in space. Though the Soviet Union is no more, its legacy continues on with the Russian space program, still flying men and materials into space in support of the International Space Station -- and Americans now hitch ride on some of the Soyuz capsule flights. The Space Shuttle program, though closing soon, is also still flying, with Endeavour up next at the end of the month.
APOD has a nice piece today. Of course Gagarin died in 1968 on a training flight in a MiG-15UTI. He was just 34 years old. And the Space Shuttle Columbia, it died 1 February 2003 on re-entry during mission STS-107. Wikipedia notes that "Columbia was the only shuttle to have been spaceworthy during the Shuttle-Mir and International Space Station programs and yet to have never visited either Mir or ISS." Thus Columbia never visited Russian territory in space.
That I have lived through all fifty years of the manned space programs of all nations, is quite amazing.
*** Update 1/2/2015: Ran across this entry today and thought I'd add what I learned recently. The Air Force originally set space at fifty miles. The 100 km (62 miles) was settled on after those flights. The X-15 with the big XLR-99 engine qualified under the old rules. I just assumed that astronaut wings were astronaut wings.