Science: The Cruise of the Vostok

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Vostok was not an unmanned satellite-impersonal, cold, emotionally empty. It had carried an ordinary man soaring across the face of the heavens, and mankind's imagination had soared with him. Scientists could talk with new assurance about a whole new series of technological achievements that might refashion the world of the future: manned satellites watching and perhaps controlling the weather, guiding ships and airplanes, acting as communication relay stations, providing a drastic change of environment for people with diseases that cannot be cured on earth. Military men conjured up orbiting space fleets, bristling with giant nuclear missiles capable of devastating the land below.

All this had been talked about before, but Yuri Gagarin's high ride made it all seem sure and possible. As the first man in space, his own contribution had been no more than his own survival, but the world to which he returned would never be the same again.

Kind Russian Eyes. The Soviet system has minimized personal publicity in the space field, but last week every segment of the state united to make Gagarin's achievement a personal triumph—ironically surrounding it with bourgeois trappings. Petitions were drawn up to rename a Moscow square after the cosmonaut. A glacier was given his name. An already prepared issue of a commemorative stamp began to roll off the presses. Reporters worked overtime to introduce him to his countrymen. One ebullient newsman described him as having "a kind Russian face, with eyes well separated." Another, who interviewed Gagarin soon after landing, seemed so dazzled by the new national hero that he wrote: "His eyes were shining as though still reflecting spatial starlight." A nationwide hookup broadcast a telephone conversation between "Gaga," as the Soviet public promptly nicknamed him, and Premier Khrushchev, who was vacationing on the Black Sea.

Khrushchev: How did you feel?

Gaga: I felt fine. The flight was very successful. All the apparatus of the cosmic ship functioned properly. During the flight I saw the earth from a great height. I could see the seas, the mountains, big cities, rivers and forests.

K.: So you felt all right?

G.: You are quite right, Nikita Sergeevich. I felt fine on the flight. Just like at home.

K.: You have made yourself immortal because you are the first man to penetrate into space.

G.: Now let the other countries try to catch us.

K.: That's right. Let the capitalist countries try to catch up with our country, which has blazed the trail into space and launched the world's first cosmonaut.

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