It is 60 years since the death of Yuri Gagarin

TORONTO, Canada.— On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became a hero when he launched into space and history as the first human being to orbit the Earth. More than 60 years later, his death is still a mystery.

Gagarin took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, in the USSR, and reached an altitude of about 325 kilometers in a single orbit that lasted less than two hours before landing (well off course, but still in the Soviet Union) in front of a young woman and her grandmother.

They were terrified.

The mission was a serious blow to the United States, which was far behind in the space race.

The Soviets had already beaten them to space with the first satellite and would also send the first woman into space, and perform the first spacewalk before the United States managed to overtake them and make the first manned moon landing.

Gagarin received a hero’s welcome but was subsequently banned from returning to space because Soviet leaders did not want a national hero to die on a future mission.

But less than seven years later, when he was only 34, the cosmonaut would die during a routine training flight in his MiG-15 aircraft near Chkalovsky airfield, outside Moscow.

national coup

Several years ago, fellow cosmonaut Vladimir Aksyonov, who died last Tuesday at the age of 89, spoke to the Agence France-Presse news agency about the events of March 27, 1968, when he, too, was supposed to have been flying.

“Yuri and I consult the same doctors and hear the same weather forecasts; My takeoff was scheduled an hour after yours,” the retired cosmonaut recalled.

But Aksyonov’s flight was canceled and that same morning, Gagarin and his co-pilot, Vladimir Seryogin, were no longer responding to radio calls.

A few hours later, helicopter crews searching for the plane said they found parts of the wreckage 65 kilometers from the airfield.

Gagarin’s body was recovered the next day.

It was a blow to the nation, which declared a day of mourning for the cosmonaut, the first time such an honor had been granted to someone who was not head of state.

According to the official report on the incident, the plane had to make a sudden maneuver due to a “change in the situation in the air,” which led to the accident.

But Alexander Glushko, a historian of the Soviet space industry, told AFP: “The official commission report, which consisted of 29 volumes, was never published. “This prompted colleagues and experts to start their own investigations.”


Of course, that gave rise to rumors, including that Gagarin had been murdered by the KGB, that he had been drunk, or that he had been abducted by aliens.

In 2011, the 50th anniversary of their space flight, recently declassified documents said that Gagarin or Seryogin had maneuvered sharply, either to avoid a weather balloon or to avoid “entry into the upper limit of the first cloud layer,” which led the plane into a “supercritical flight regime and its stall in complex meteorological conditions.”

Then there is the background theory. Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, a member of a commission investigating Gagarin’s death, was conducting parachute training sessions that day and heard “two loud bangs in the distance.” He believed that another plane passed within 10 or 20 meters of Gagarin’s plane as he broke the sound barrier, and that the resulting turbulence caused the MiG to spin uncontrollably.

First burst

The first boom he heard was the plane breaking the sound barrier; The second was the crash.

In 2017, Leonov, then 83, told state news agency RIA Novosti: “I saw a declassified document from the investigation that confirmed (this).”

He added that the commission had covered up the truth to protect the pilot of the other plane, whom he declined to name but referred to as “quite famous” and currently “old and sick.”

And he concluded: “This is no longer a secret: it is about negligence and violation of aviation regulations.”

Leonov died a year later, in 2019.

The mystery of the space age continues.— National Post

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2024-04-24 16:09:34

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