Science: The Cruise of the Vostok

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Eagle Scout. After all that, it was no surprise that Major Gagarin's authorized biography read as if it had been manufactured to fit the occasion. What was released to a curious world was a wordperfect picture of the "new Soviet man" —it might well have described a U.S. Eagle Scout from Iowa. Yuri was born on a collective farm near the small town of Gzhatsk, 100 miles west of Moscow. The young boy shone in the local school, and after completing the sixth grade, he was sent to manual training school in a Moscow suburb. He graduated as a molder, but never worked at this skilled trade; his record was good enough to get him into an "industrial technicum" (a sort of technical junior college) at Saratov on the Volga. While there, he learned to fly at the Saratov Aero Club and was admitted to the Soviet air force's cadet academy at Orenburg. He graduated with top honors in 1957 and married a pretty medical graduate, Valentina Ivanovna. They have two children, both girls: Elena, 2, and Galya, one month. It was all so pat and proper and bourgeois that White Russian refugees from South America to Tyrone, Pa., recalling that Gagarin was the name of a princely family, felt free to claim Yuri as one of their own. But the suggestion that he was really a descendant of Russian nobility never quite rang true.

Reporters, trying to put some flesh on the bare bones of official handouts, interviewed Valentina Gagarina in her two-room-and-kitchen apartment near Moscow. The place was bulging with excited neighbors, and as the newsmen arrived, word came over the radio that Valentina's husband felt fine. She turned off the radio and wiped away her tears, while her older daughter nibbled stolidly on an apple. Valentina explained that the whole affair was news to her; she had not even known her husband was a major until she heard it on the radio. She had known, she said, that he was engaged in important work, but not that he was about to blast off into space. "He was afraid to upset me because I was an expectant mother."

There were no such secrets now. Whenever she turned on her radio, Valentina Gagarina could hear her husband's voice, or glowing reports about his achievement. The newspapers, which were on the streets with special editions, were full of him, too. Over and over they printed his story: the first eyewitness report from outer space.

Blue Band. "From the spaceship," said Gaga, "I could not see as well as from an airplane, but still I could see very well. I saw with my own eyes the spherical shape of the earth. I must say that the view of the horizon is unusual and very beautiful. I could see the unusual transition from the light surface of the earth to the blackness of the sky. There is a very narrow band that makes the transition. This band is a delicate blue color."

Asked about his first feelings on touching the earth again, he replied: "It is difficult to say in words all the feelings that took hold of me when I stepped on our Soviet land. First of all, I was glad because I had successfully fulfilled my task. In general, all my feelings can be expressed by one word: joy. When I was going down, I sang the song, The Motherland Hears, the Motherland Knows."

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