1961-1964

It was the time. The Soviet Space Agency had been preparing this for months. They would finally finally send a man to orbit Earth. The mission was called ‘Vostok 1’ and it would carry and single cosmonaut: Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968). Although the official decision of him being the first cosmonaut was oficially taken 4 days before launch, he was one of the favourite candidates for months. As most astronauts of both NASA and the Soviet Space Agency at the time,  he was an experienced military pilot. He was chose because of his intelligence memory and handling of orbital mechanics. Even when the initial 20 candidates were asked to vote which of the others they thought was the most suited for Vostok 1, 17 of them voted for Gagarin. Despite him being described as ‘friendly’ he was clearly nervous and quiet prior to the flight. Nor him nor Korolev (Soviet Space Program chief rocket scientist) slept due to anxiety caused by the launch. Gagarin and his backup were carried to the launch pad and Gagarin entered the capsule. The flight went as planned except for a failure in orbital insertion, which meant that, in the event that the deorbit retroburners didn’t fire, he would stay in the capsule for 20 days before before it naturally reentered the atmosphere due to orbital decay, instead of the 10 days his life support allowed. Luckily, the retroburners fired and he reentered the atmosphere 1:28 after launch. But the capsule  didn’t separate from the service module, which caused the capsule to rotate during reentry. But it separated 10 seconds after the start of atmospheric reentry, so there were no major problems during the mission. when the capsule was 7,5 km from the ground, the hatch separated and Gagarin ejected and parachuted into the ground. After that,  Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut onboard of Freedom 7. Korolev wanted funding for a manned Mars mission, but President Kennedy challenge of landing on the Moon before 1970 made the Soviet Space Program to focus on that target. But unlike NASA, which was coordinated by James Webb , there were many confrontations in the Soviet Space Program. Korolev’s bureau had to face others like Valentin Glushko or Vladimir Chelomei. Korolev wanted to go on with unmanned missions to Mars and Venus. But the Minister of Defense forced him on Moon missions. (which will later be called Venera and Mars). This stressed Korolev and caused him a heart attack. He was warned by doctors that, if he continued working so hard, he wouldn’t live for long. But he didn’t obey and continued working because he thought that Krushchev was only only interested in the space program by its propagandistic value and he would abolish it if he died. That was the main reason why Valentina Tereshkova was launched in Vostok 6, becoming the first female cosmonaut, more than 15 years before the US sent a woman to space. The Soviet Space Program secretly developed 2 programs: To fly by the Moon with the Soyuz 7K-L1 with the Proton rocket and to land on it with the Soyuz 7K-LOK module, using the mentioned N-1 rocket, but serious plans were not made until some years later. Mars and Venus probes could be also launched on the N-1 rocket, which could lift 75 tons to LEO on early designs. The Lunar fly by would be formed by various modules launched separately by the R-7 rocket (which was the inspiration for the Soyuz rocket that currently sends crew to  the ISS) and assembled in orbit to form it. The manned Lunar landing plan  was to send two modules and dock them in orbit using the N-1, but this was rapidly changed when the N-1 performance was improved by increasing the number of NK-33 engines and making them more efficient than the engines used in other Soviet rockets (NK-33 engines burn kerosene and oxygen which is a more efficient mix than the hydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide used in older soviet rockets). That was Korolev’s idea but his main internal competitor, Vladimir Chelomei, gained support from the government by employing Khrushchev’s familiars. His idea was to use an UR500 rocket two deliver a craft with two people on board to the Moon on a direct ascent trajectory (the craft would ascend directly to the Moon instead of doing the more efficient Hohmann transfer). Korolev heavily critizised this idea, mainly because of the rocket using the very toxic and, some people say carcinogenic, dimethylhydrazyne and dinitrogen tetroxide hypergolic propellants (they ignite spontaneusly on contact, making them very dangerous to handle). But, on the other side of the Pacific, JFK murder made NASA and US focused on making his dream come true. NASA was getting 5% of US budget and it become an important part of citizens’ lives. On 1964, the government finaly published a plan for a manned Moon mission: Chelomei would develop a Lunar fly by mission and Korolev would do a manned Moon landing by 1967. But Khrushchev was substituted by Leonid Brezhnev made Korolev in charge of both Lunar landing and fly by. His bureau also developed the Voskhod capsule which was a optimized version of the Vostok capsule. This could soft landin the ocean using a very big parachute. But Korolev’s health started to suffer, he was diagnosed with cardiac arrithmia and began to develop deafness due to the noise in rocket engine tests, whose sound level can climb up to 160 dB. The first unmanned Voskhod flight took place on October 6, 1964.