60 years ago: The day-long flight of Vostok 2 and Cosmonaut G. Titov

A TV image of Gherman Titov in flight.

*****

            On the evening of August 5, 1961, President John F. Kennedy is informed of evidence that the Soviets have begun a countdown towards a manned launch the next day.

*

            “Liftoff.  We have liftoff.”

            “She’s off and running!”    No sensation at first.  Then the vibrations and G-forces from the massive R-7 rocket build.

*

            U.S. radars detect the launch, signal Western tracking stations.

*

            Engine cutoff.  The pilot-cosmonaut feels as if he’s somersaulted upside down.  “I am Oryel [Eagle]!” he radios, “I am Eagle!” — his call name. 

*

            An hour after launch, Radio Moscow announces:  “On August 6, 1961, at 0900 hr. (Moscow time) a new launching into orbit of the Earth — the spaceship Vostok 2 — was made in the Soviet Union.  The spaceship Vostok 2 is piloted by citizen of the Soviet Union, pilot cosmonaut Maj. Gherman Stepanovich Titov.

            “According to preliminary data, the spaceship has been put into an orbit close to the calculated one, with the following parameters:  minimum distance from the surface of the Earth (at perigee) is 178 km; maximum distance (at apogee) is 257 km; the inclination of the orbit to the equator is 64 degrees 56 minutes.  The initial period of revolution of the spaceship is 88.6 min. The spaceship weighs 4,731 kg, excluding the weight of the final stage of the carrier rocket.”

*

            fter sunrise, “an explosive arrival of dazzling brilliance” at the start of his second orbit, Titov, who won’t turn 26 for a month, takes manual control the spaceship’s orientation.

*  

            “Two-way radio communication is being maintained with Cosmonaut Titov . . .  The equipment on board to sustain the cosmonaut’s vital activity is functioning normally.  The cosmonaut Gherman Titov feels well.  The flight of the Soviet spaceship, which is controlled by man, is proceeding successfully.”

*

            The last comment is aimed at the United States whose commentators bragged that astronauts Shepard and Grissom controlled their capsules, were active pilots, whereas Yuri Gagarin was a mere passenger.  Later, Moscow reported, that Titov “tested the spacecraft’s systems of manual control, after which he reported on the good controllability of the vehicle when maneuvered by this method.”

*

            On his third orbit, he eats dinner — puree and meat pates in squeeze tubes.  And a few chunks of bread.  He finds eating in weightlessness no problem.  

*

            On his fifth orbit, Radio Moscow reports, “During the flight over Soviet territory the radio-television system transmitted pictures showing the calm and smiling face of the Soviet cosmonaut . . .  While flying over Kwangchow, Maj. Titov sent greetings to the people of Asia, and while flying over Melbourne he transmitted greetings to the people of Australia.”

*

            Vostok’s orbital inclination means that with each orbit, Titov’s ground tracks shifts 22 degrees, eventually taking him over most of the populated territory of the world.

            Over the U.S., he radios, “Sending my friendly greeting to the people of North America.”

*

            On his sixth orbit, Titov begins to feel a lethargy . . . that builds into a “vestibular disturbance.” that becomes nausea.  He limits movements and keeps his head still.  

*

            Western experts quickly calculate that his orbit will bring him back over the landing zone after 17 orbits.   Seventeen orbits — that equates to a full day in space.  While the U.S. is still struggling towards putting its first astronaut in orbit.  And hasn’t even orbited an unmanned Mercury capsule.

*

            Titov still feels nauseous.  But not to the point of vomiting, and continues to perform his mission.  Over Moscow, 6:15 p.m.  on the start of his seventh orbit, he radios, “I bet to wish dear Muscovites good night.  I am turning in now.  Do what you will, I am turning in.”  He sleep period is scheduled to stretch from 6:30 p.m., Moscow time, until 2 a.m., August 7. He falls into a light slumber, still upset by nausea — then sleeps sounder, for an extra 35 min., alarming some controllers when they first could not rouse him by radio.  When finally contacted, he reports, “I had a good sleep, like a child.” Much of the nausea has vanished.

            Moscow announces, “The cosmonaut’s condition remains excellent.  Having breakfasted well at 0545 hr., the cosmonaut is continuing the work envisaged by the program of scientific research.”

*

            “Are you ready for reentry?”

            “Ready.”

            Over western Africa on the Vostok’s 17th orbit, the retro rocket automatically fires at 9:52 a.m., Moscow time.

*

            This is Radio Moscow:  “The Soviet spaceship Vostok 2 piloted by cosmonaut Maj. Gherman Stepanovich Titov has completed over 17 revolutions around the Earth in 25 hr. 18 min. and has flowing over 700,000 km.

            “Having successfully fulfilled the scientific research program, the spaceship Vostok 2 was brought down near the predetermined area, not far from the historic place where pilot-cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyvich Gagarin landing the spaceship Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961.”

            As planned, as Gagarin did (but was kept secret), he ejects from the descending capsule.  Even with its parachute, the spherical capsule would land hard enough to injure a human.  Titov parachutes safely to the into a plowed field near the village of Krasny Kut in the Saratov region, 450 mi. southeast of Moscow.

*

            “The prolonged spaceflight by a Soviet cosmonaut, unprecedented in the history of mankind, has been successfully completed.”

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