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People in Orbit

Just several years have passed after the first unmanned flights and soon the first person in history says in Russian “Go!”. He utters it so loud that it echoes in every corner of our planet. Space competition starts between West and East and for many years USSR is ahead. The first manned flight, the first exit from the ship into the open space (Aleksey Leonov), the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova), first group flights and unique space technologies. All of this became possible due to the efforts of many Russian engineers, designers and scientists.

The air regeneration unit of air-conditioning and temperature control system of the «Voskhod» spacecraft. USSR, 1964

This unit was part of the system that ensured that the atmosphere inside the ship was suitable for breathing. This required the removal of the excess moisture, carbon dioxide and other gaseous products of human activity. Since it accommodated three cosmonauts instead of one, the system of «Voskhod» featured more performance capability than the one on «Vostok» (180 liters per minute versus 50). For refilling of the oxygen supply on the ship, there were reserves of alkali metal superoxides on board which in reaction to the moist air produced oxygen and alkali that, in turn, absorbed the excess of carbon dioxide. To ensure the entire process, a large system was required with automatic valves and sensors which could monitor the oxygen levels. Moreover, only a part of the moisture was removed during the regeneration process, so the system was equipped with additional dryers based on silica gel and activated carbon. All this equipment was assembled in two single units. In addition to these, the air-conditioning and temperature control system included two more: the air control unit and the temperature maintenance unit.

«Sputnik 1». Model, 1957

The most famous first artificial Earth satellite, also known as PS-1 (the simplest satellite 1), was developed in OKB-1 (now RSC Energia). Designing the satellite was the final part of a long and hard process for constructing and fine-tuning the world’s first carrier missile, capable of bringing the satellite into orbit. Such rocket, bearing the name P-7 was designed and tested in the factory conditions between 1955 and 1956. Only after that, the order was given to develop an artificial satellite. The works were carried out from November 1956 to September 1957, in parallel with the test runs of R-7. After a series of unsuccessful test launches, on August 21, 1957, the missile was successfully launched: it started from Kazakhstan, went through the whole flight and dropped at the site in Kamchatka. Once the bench tests of «Sputnik 1» were completed, it was decided to launch it into space. The legendary event happened late in the evening of October 4, 1957. The satellite weighing 83.6 kilograms entered the elliptical orbit after 295 seconds, and after 20 seconds after the separation of the central unit, it transmitted its signal, which could be heard on two frequencies by all radio amateurs in the world. The launch of Sputnik marked the beginning of the era of space exploration, and the date of October 4 become memorable to the entire world. «Sputnik 1» orbited for 92 days and burned up in the upper atmosphere. During its flight, it completed 1,440 orbits of the Earth and traveled for 60 million kilometers.

From the collection of RSC Energia

«Sputnik 1» and Second artificial satellite (PS-2)

Second artificial satellite (PS-2) with the nose cone. Model. Scale 1:1

This space object became famous and received a mixed response in the world. For the first time in history, it brought a living being in orbit — the dog Laika. The engineers virtually had no time for the construction of «Sputnik-2», since, after the success of the first satellite, it was decided that the second one should be launched on the anniversary of the October Revolution — only a month after the launch of «Sputnik-1». So, the «Sputnik-2» was created in a hurry. Hence, a number of controversial technological decisions were made. The cabin for Laika was a modified version of the cabin used for high-altitude launches of laboratory animals. The radio transmitter was taken from the first satellite’s twin copy. For scientific data transmission, the radio-telemetry complex of the launching rocket was used, which means that the satellite was not designed to separate from the rocket core. In spite of everything, «Sputnik-2» with Laika on board was launched on November 3, 1957. The satellite successfully reached orbit and began transmitting telemetry. Scientists received data on the pulse and the breathing of the dog, as well as Laika’s cardiogram and actogram (graphic data of the animal’s movement). The launch of «Sputnik-2» showed that a living being can survive the launch of the rocket and the state of zero gravity. However, Laika paid for that information with her life — the satellite did not have the descent module, and there was no chance for the dog to return to Earth.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

«Sputnik-3». Model, 1958

It was built in OKB-1 (now RSC Energia) and was actually the first satellite that was really prepared for scientific work. «Sputnik-1» was developed with the purpose of sending an object into outer space, whereas «Sputnik-2» was designed in a hurry — to celebrate the anniversary of the October Revolution. «Satellite-3» was also much bigger and had a large number of various instruments. It was equipped with a tape recorder for recording telemetry, experimental solar panels, a beacon powered by the solar panels, as well as sensors for detection of cosmic rays, radiation, sunlight etc. The launch of «Sputnik-3» was held on May 15, 1958, using the modified R-7 rocket: to send the payload mass of 1327 kg into space the engineers had to build an additional missile unit. The satellite went successfully on an elongated elliptical orbit and remained there until April 6, 1960. As a result of the «Sputnik-3» mission, there were plans to create a whole family of similar devices.

From the collection of RSC Energia

«Vostok» spaceсraft. Model, 1970. Scale 1:3

The development of the first manned spacecraft began in April 1957, a few months before the first artificial satellite was launched. At the time of the first satellites, the engineers learned to launch objects into space and successfully send them into orbit, but the hardest part was to bring the pilot back in the descent module. This was solved by the most simple and tested means. The descent module was given the spherical shape and the designers called it «Sharik» (a little ball). The trajectory of descent was ballistic which meant that g-forces (loads) at deceleration would be 8 to 9g. The task seemed solvable provided that the pilot of the ship would be specially trained. The temperature at deceleration could reach 3,500 degrees, so there was a question of the heat shield. In the final version of the ship the shield weighed more than a ton. In order to ensure the proper return trajectory when leaving the orbit, during the activation of the brake engines, the ship had to have the exact position in relation to Earth. To achieve this, «Vostok» was equipped with both the automatic and manual navigation systems. Prior to Yuri Gagarin’s legendary flight, there were a few test flights of the light-weighted prototypes of «Vostok». A total of six dogs (including Belka and Strelka), as well as insects, plants, and fungi traveled to space on these ships. Out of five launches, only three were successful, including the two which fully completed their flight missions. Six cosmonauts flew to the orbit on the spacecraft from the «Vostok» series: Yuri Gagarin, German Titov, Andrian Nikolayev, Pavel Popovich, Valery Bykovsky and Valentina Tereshkova. The designs used to create «Vostok» were later implemented in the development of the «Voskhod» spacecraft intended for three cosmonauts, as well as in numerous unmanned satellites. These designs are partly used in aerospace at present.

From the collection of the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics

«Vostok-6» descent module, 1963

«Vostok-6» descent module

"Vostok-6" was piloted by the world’s first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova. Her double was Irina Solovyova, while Valentina Ponomareva was in her support crew. In order to make

the flight as comfortable as possible for the female pilot, the suit design and the ship itself underwent a number of changes. The launch took place on June 16, 1963, and the entire flight lasted for almost three days. The main objective of the mission was to test different radio connection modes since at that time another spacecraft «Vostok-5» with Valery Bykovsky aboard was also in orbit. The pilots of the two ships exchanged radio messages with Earth and with each other, registering their observations through the ship windows. In addition, both ships were equipped with video cameras. Apart from the color shooting in "through the eyes of the astronauts» style, the black and white shooting of the vertical profile of the atmosphere took place to measure the brightness of the atmosphere. The «Vostok-6» mission brought a brilliant ending to the series of one-man operated spacecraft, although its designs were used in the development of many future spacecraft.

From the collection of RSC Energia

«Voskhod-1» descent module, 1964

The «Voskhod» series of multi-seat spacecraft was built entirely on the basis of the one-seat «Vostok». However, in order to place three astronauts inside instead of one, the engineers had to significantly revise the interior of the descent module, as well as some components of the life support system. First, the engineers left out the cumbersome ejection seat, which was used on «Vostok» for escaping the ship at the last stage of descent. It was decided that the crews would have to return to Earth directly inside the descent capsule. Along with the ejection seat, the spacesuits also had to go, because three cosmonauts in spacesuits took up too much space and did not fit inside the ship. All together it meant that «Voskhod» was much less reliable than «Vostok». Only two manned flights were taken on the ships of the «Voskhod» series. One was held on October 12−13, 1964. For the first time, three astronauts at once flew to orbit, and without wearing protective space suits. The second launch was held on March 18, 1965. This time, there were two people in the crew: the pilot Alexei Leonov and the commander Pavel Belyaev. As part of this flight, Alexei Leonov went on the world’s first spacewalk and spent 12 minutes and 9 seconds outside the ship. The mission of «Voskhod-2» was overall successful, but during its course, a total of seven accidents happened, including the complete shutdown of the ship’s automation. Finally, the astronauts went out of orbit manually and landed in a taiga forest away from human settlements. The rescue team arrived only two days later. After this flight, the «Voskhod» series of manned spacecraft was ended, and the next few launches were carried out in the unmanned mode, and only once with the animals on board. The «Voskhod» spacecraft were replaced by the more sophisticated «Soyuz» ships (the first launch was in April 1967).

Space ejection seat from «Vostok» spacecraft, 1961

Space ejection seat from «Vostok» spacecraft

Despite the fact that «Vostok» was the world’s first manned spacecraft, it was already equipped with numerous systems that provided the necessary security for the astronaut in the event of an accident. The key element of these systems was the ejection seat. According to the flight program, it had to be engaged at the last stage of descent, since the landing capsule was not designed to land softly. After the ejection, the astronaut would cover the last kilometers to Earth on a parachute. However, the ejection seat was also adapted to function in the case of an accident: if something happened in the first 45 seconds after the launch, the seat would catapult from the descent module. However, this was also its downside, since in the case of ejection the seat would become uncontrolled and were more likely to land back into the launch zone, which at this point could easily be filled with fire. Therefore, the engineers would install a special screen over the site near the launch area. Also, a rescue team would be on duty, ready to help the ejected astronaut. The «Soyuz» spacecraft were equipped with an improved emergency rescue system. It ejected the entire nose cone, which with the help of small engines would then be diverted from the launch area. This system saved the lives of the cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Gennady Strekalov in 1983 when the rocket «Soyuz-U» caught fire.

From the collection of NPP «Zvezda»

Air-ventilated suit of Valentina Tereshkova, 1963

Valentina Tereshkova made only one flight, which eventually brought her the title of the world’s first female astronaut. She piloted the «Vostok» spacecraft and wore the sealed SK space suit (SK-2 was the special version developed personally for Tereshkova) all the time during the flight. This was due to the fact that at the last stage of descent from orbit, the astronaut had to be catapulted to Earth and descend with a parachute. Because the suit was sealed, it had mechanical ventilation built into it, providing heat and moisture removal. To do his job, the astronaut had to wear a special air-ventilated suit under the space suit. It had nozzles for the air exchange and was connected to a pump, thus providing air flow at a rate of 50 to 300 liters per minute depending on the astronaut’s physiological parameters.

From the collection of NPP «Zvezda»

License plate Y.G.1. Yuri Gagarin’s Rolls-Royce, 1961

The personal car park of the first cosmonaut gave birth to many myths, each of which has its own right to exist. But according to the reliable sources, Gagarin personally owned only two cars apart from the «company car» provided for him by the state. It is a well-known fact that before his famous space flight Gagarin never drove a car since he had no driver’s license. He passed the driver’s exam shortly after the flight, just like any other Soviet citizen, and got an «A» at the exam. Immediately thereafter, the astronaut received a gift from the government: the black «Volga» GAZ-21 car with license plate 78−78 MOD. The second car came in after Gagarin’s visit to France. Eyewitnesses say, he really liked the model Matra-Bonnet Jet VS that he saw at the motor show. This small coupe weighed only 660 kilograms and could accelerate up to 190 kilometers per hour. Upon his return to Russia, the gift was already waiting for him: the car was painted in an unusual sky blue color. However, due to political reasons, Gagarin drove it only a few times. Presented here is the license plate Y.G.1 from the magnificent «Rolls-Royce», which carried Gagarin when he visited England in July 1961. According to reports in the British press, the license plate on the car actually belonged to the singer Yana Guard, whose English initials coincided with the initials of Gagarin. Nevertheless, that «Rolls Royce» was never presented to the Soviet cosmonaut: after his visit, the car was returned to its rightful owner, the American citizen J. Frenkel.

From the collection of Gagarin Research Institute