Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12, 1961, and Yuri Gagarin: the Lemming's Take

"108 mins that stunned the world: Russia honors Gagarin"
Alissa de Carbonnel, Edition: U.S. (April 12, 2011)

"His 108-minute flight into space 50 years ago set new a horizon for humanity and overnight turned a farmworker's son named Yuri Gagarin into one of the century's heroes.

"But half a century after his exploit captured the world's imagination and fueled a space race with the United States, Russia has found it necessary to release top secret archives to counter persistent rumors that Gagarin was later murdered on the orders of jealous or paranoid Soviet rulers.

" 'Gagarin once said: "To me my whole life seems to be one perfect moment," ' recalled veteran Soviet space journalist Vladimir Gubarev earlier this month.

"The 27-year-old's single Earth orbit on April 12, 1961 was one of the Soviet Union's most enduring Cold War victories and is proudly remembered today, especially in the cosmonaut town that is the heart of the nation's space program.

"Star City, the world's oldest space-flight training center, resembles in many ways a shrine to the first man in space, whose premature death in a mysterious plane crash seven years after his flight cemented a poster-boy status....

"...Conspiracy theories abound that he did not die in a plane crash, but was murdered on the orders of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev for an unspecified offence or disloyalty to the party.

"In an apparent bid to quash such whisperings about Gagarin's death ahead of the anniversary, the archives declassified by post-Soviet Russia last week shed new light on the crash.

"The documents show a Soviet probe concluded that Gagarin had most likely lost control of his jet after swerving sharply to avoid a weather-forecasting balloon, archives official Alexander Stepanov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying...."

The Lemming hadn't run into the 'commies killed Gagarin' story: maybe it's a European/Russian cultural thing. The Soviet-era investigation results seem a bit more plausible than the notion that a Soviet leader killed one of the international celebrities the workers' paradise produced.

Still, the conspiracy buffs probably won't be dissuaded. The willing-suspension-of-disbelief threshold seems to be set fairly high for some folks:Moving on.

The Lemming remembers Sputnik, Gagarin, Glenn, and Tranquility Base. It's been an interesting half-century. A decade or so of which has been, from the Lemming's point of view, 'The Future.'

Looking around at 'The Future,' the Lemming notes that we don't have atomic toothpaste, flying cars, or cities on the Moon. Actually, flying cars have been around, off and on, as a series of prototypes and short-run production vehicles. They never took off, though. And that's another topic. (July 1, 2010) Also a horrible pun.

On the whole, though, the Lemming's rather impressed with what did get done: the emerging Information Age, from the Internet to more computers in many households than were on this continent not too long ago; a work-in-progress International Space Station; more than a half-dozen spaceports in this country, and many more around the world.

And we survived disco.

All in all, quite satisfactory.

As for 'what's next?' Entrepreneurs are jockeying for position in Earth-orbit real estate, suborbital tourist space flight isn't all that far away, and the robot spaceships have been exploring the Solar system for decades keep being joined by newer, smarter, models.

Judging by the size of the Solar system, and the galaxy we're in: folks won't run out of places to explore for quite a while.

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4 comments:

Atlanta Roofing said...

This anniversary is different. There has been almost nothing in comparison to other technologies that has advanced in the last 50 years of human spaceflight. It is unfortunate, but true.

prasad said...

Russia faced so many difficulties to reach this position. If Russia didn't split in different countries no doubt it is the world's most powerful country. Russia come to this position with their (own) men power but America come to its position with different countries people effort so Russia is the greatest country like India.

Brian Gill said...

Atlanta Roofing,

Oh-kay.

I'm not quite sure what you mean.

The last 50 years, in the part of the world where I live, has seen quite a bit of change, in a great many tech sectors.

Aerospace has gone from limited-duration Earth orbit to the International Space Station, a half-dozen-plus spaceports on North America alone, and entrepreneurs competing to get the first, best, most profitable properties launched.

Information technology - what I'm using at this moment was simply not on the radar a half-century back, apart from a few science fiction stories.

Materials technology - glass bottles are still used, occasionally, but most packaged foods are in containers made of composite synthetics that didn't exist when I was growing up.

Medical technology - an alphabet-soup-bowl-full of scanners, designer drugs, prosthetics - and brain-computer interfaces in the R & D stages.

A dedicated Luddite might see that as a bad thing: but particularly since I see through synthetic lenses and walk on replacement hip joints - I don't see it that way.

But I don't think you were regretting tech. development.

Thanks for the comment, BTW.

Brian Gill said...

prasad,

Agreed, that India - as well as China, Russia, Brazil, and others, are great countries.

As I recall, though, Russia hasn't been divided in living memory.

The Soviet Union / Union of Soviet Socialist Republics / Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик was sometimes called "Russia," at least here in the United States. But that political union was, as the name suggests, a union of several individual, discrete, nations. The BBC has a pretty good timeline/history of the Soviet Union: news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1112551.stm

As for America being different from the Soviet Union: I agree. This country is a sort of amalgam of folks who came here voluntarily, to take succeed in way that were difficult or impossible in their homeland. The Soviet Union was - different.

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