Thursday, October 18, 2018

The name of Gagarin

‘So ended this anxious, joyful, victorious day. Humankind will never forget the day of April 12, 1961, and the name of Gagarin will forever fit into history and will be one of the most famous.’ This is from the diary of Nikolai Petrovich Kamanin, a Soviet aviator who rose through the country’s ranks eventually to be chosen to run its nascent space programme, which then successfully put the first human being - Yuri Gagarin - into space. Kamanin - born 110 years ago today - kept diaries throughout his service for the Soviet space programme. These were only published for the first time after his death, but they are now freely available online.

Nikolai Petrovich Kamanin was born on 18 October 1908 (though, possibly, 1909 - see Wikipedia) in Melenki, Vladimir Oblast, some 200km east of Moscow. His father, who had joined the Bolsheviks, died when Nikolai was only 11. He joined the Soviet army in 1927 and then transferred to the air force. After training, in 1929, he joined the Lenin Air Regiment. In 1934, using biplanes, he rescued many survivors after a steamship had been crushed by Arctic ice in the Chuckchi Sea. Along with other rescuers, he was made a Hero of the Soviet Union, a newly created honour. During the Second World War, he served in many roles, in Asia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe, and was regularly promoted, finally commanding the 5th Attack Air Corps, and concluding with the rank of lieutenant general.

Kamanin continued to command the air corps until 1947, based first in Tiraspol and then in Arad (Romania). After a short while as deputy chief of the USSR Civil Air Fleet, he served as chairman of the DOSAB Central Committee, and from 1951 to 1955 as deputy chairman of the DOSAAF Central Committee for Aviation. From 1956 to 1958 he was in charge of the 73rd Air Army of the Turkestan Military District. In 1958, he was promoted again to deputy chief of the Air Force General Staff for combat training. In 1960, he was commissioned to organise the selection and training of astronauts for space flights, and was directly involved in planning and organising the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin. In 1966 he was appointed Assistant Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force for Space, and the following year he was made colonel general. He was sidelined from 1969, after several disastrous years for the Soviet space programme (including Gagarin’s death during a routine fight), and he was discharged from the armed services in 1971. He died in 1982.

From the start of his appointment to the nascent Soviet programme, in 1960, right through until his retirement, Kamanin kept detailed diaries. Though under lock and key until the break-up of the Soviet Union, they were published in 1995. According to Wikipedia, they explain the development of the Soviet manned programme and related internal politics, and how there were four sides to Kaminin’s work: Coordination of design bureaus developing the life support systems for manned spaceflight; Tracking, search and recovery of landed craft; Management of cosmonaut training squads; and Other space launches. The published book is freely available online, at a Russian website, Militera, and individual pages can be translated into English via Google translate. Many thanks to Mark Wade, who runs the Astronautix website, for this information. Wade’s own article on Kaminin’s diaries includes very useful English summaries (by date) of much of the diary’s contents (although he says he mostly omitted any personal content, or entries about non-space related activities).

Here is Wade’s assessment of the diaries: ‘Despite some failings, Kamanin’s diaries are the only accounts we have for many key events and the only contemporary account of the inside workings of the Soviet space programme. They convey marvelously the human vitality of the space race on the Soviet side. The periods spent out on the steppes in Kazakhstan for launches have all the atmosphere of a male-bonding camping trip. They work hard, all hours, but also party hard and spend Sundays on hunting or fishing expeditions. The stories are reminiscent of American accounts of the hard work and sheer pleasure of pioneering space from similar hardship posts - from the swamps of Cape Canaveral to the deserts of New Mexico.’

The foreword to the diaries (as translated by Google) includes this: ‘ “The Space Diaries of General Kamanin” is a historical document that most reliably reflects the development of the national cosmonautics and the complex interrelation of events in the first decade of manned space flights. But documents of this kind are not only of historical value, they are very important from a practical point of view, because without a clear idea of ​​the past it is impossible to comprehend the present, and without an understanding of the present one cannot make predictions for the future.’ And here is Google Translate’s version of one entry - the day Yuri Gagarin was the first human to travel in space.

12 April 1961
‘At 4:50 local time, I, Karpov and Nikitin, stood up as if on cue. At 5:30 we will raise the Jura and Herman. The night went very well, fell asleep about 22 hours. A little starts to dawn, the traffic increases on the road. We arrived from the tenth site, Karpov went to raise the youth.

At 6:00 a meeting of the commission. It was surprisingly simple and short. All the reports boiled down to one phrase: “There are no comments, everything is ready, no questions, you can start.” After the meeting, I signed a flight mission, went to the MIC and looked at how a medical examination and putting on spacesuits was going. Everything went right on schedule. At 8 o’clock I, together with the lead engineer of the ship, took the elevator to the top of the rocket and checked the cipher (145) of the logical lock. The logical lock worked fine. At 8:20 Marshal Moskalenko arrived at the start. We agreed with him about the procedure for landing Gagarin in the ship. The bus with the astronauts should arrive at the launch site at 8:50. All cosmonauts and [?] remain at the bus, before the Gagarin elevator, Korolyov, Rudnev, I and Moskalenko must see off.

It was possible to keep the planned order with difficulty. Coming out of the bus, Yura and his comrades were a little impatient and started hugging and kissing. Instead of wishing a happy journey, some would say goodbye and even cry - they had to force the cosmonaut out of the embraces of the [?] almost by force. At the elevator, I firmly shook Yury’s hand and said: “See you in the Kuybyshev area in a few hours.”

After 10 minutes the suit and connection were checked. At KP, I, Popovic and Korolev kept in touch with the board. For all the preparation for the start there was only one small hitch when closing the N1 hatch. The hatch was closed, but due to the lack of contact, it had to be re-opened and fixed a minor malfunction. All the radio was recorded on tape. Audibility was excellent, Gagarin’s answers are short, clear and clear. The cosmonaut’s well-being, judging by his reports, by his voice and telemetry, was good. A few seconds before the start on the message of the Queen - “Start”, Yura replied: “Let’s go!”

The start was great. Overloads on the launch site did not have a noticeable effect on the astronaut’s voice. The radio connection was good. The astronaut felt fine. At the 150th second of the flight, after resetting the fairing, Jura reported: “Light, see the Earth, clouds, visibility is excellent.” After a few seconds, he reported on the separation of the first stage of the carrier. In 13 minutes after the launch, we already knew that the world’s first manned flight in near-earth orbit began. At the moment of the transition from the start to Kolpashevo there were several unpleasant seconds: the astronaut did not hear us, and we did not hear him. I do not know how I looked at that moment, but Korolev, who was standing next to me, was very worried: when he took the microphone, his hands trembled, his voice broke, his face was twisted and changed beyond recognition. All breathed a sigh of relief when Kolpashevo and Moscow reported on the restoration of communication with the astronaut and the launch of the spacecraft into orbit.

20 minutes after the start, I went with a group of comrades to the airfield. The An-12 took off and headed for Stalingrad (the estimated landing point for this orbit was 110 kilometers south of Stalingrad). Already in the air, we heard the TASS report about the safe landing of an astronaut in the Saratov region, and a few minutes later we were informed by the Air Force’s command post: “Everything is in order, Major Gagarin flies to Kuibyshev.” After this joyful message, everyone (there were ten of us in the plane) began to kiss, dance, and Vasily Vasilyevich Parin took out the cherished bottle of brandy. I advised to drink it when meeting with Yura ...

At the factory airfield in Kuibyshev, we were met by Colonel Chechiyants from the Air Force General Staff and reported on the situation: “Gagarin landed safely 23 kilometers from Saratov and a few minutes later he called Moscow. Later, already from Engels, together with Agaltsov they spoke on “HF” with Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Vershinin and other leaders. ” By this time, a significant crowd had already gathered at the airfield. We arrived: the secretary of the Kuibyshev Regional Party Committee, the chairman of the regional executive committee, the district air force commander and other leaders. The arrival of the authorities strengthened the influx of workers at the airport from the factory. I had to order the commander of the IL-14, on which Gagarin and Agaltsov flew, to taxi to the farthest station. We did not have time to drive up to the aircraft in cars, as here a large crowd formed. The plane’s door opened, and Yura was the first to descend - he was wearing a winter flight helmet and a blue spacesuit. I was worried and worried about all the nine hours that had passed since it landed in a spacecraft prior to this meeting at the Kuibyshev airfield, as if it were my own son. We hugged and kissed. Cameras clicked from all sides, the crowd of people was growing. There was a danger of a big crush, and Yura, although he was smiling, looked very overworked. It was necessary to stop hugging and kissing. I asked Agaltsov and Yura to get into the car and immediately go to the regional committee dacha. Three hours later, Rudnev, Korolev, Keldysh, and other members of the commission flew in from Tura-Tama.

The cottage of the regional committee was located on the high bank of the Volga, from the balcony of the third floor there was a beautiful view of the river. At ten o’clock in the evening everyone gathered at the table. Present were six cosmonauts, members of the State Commission, and heads of the region. Rudnev, Gagarin, Korolev, Murysev, Mrykin made toasts, but drank very little - it was felt that everyone was very tired. At eleven o’clock we went to the bedrooms. So ended this anxious, joyful, victorious day. Humankind will never forget the day of April 12, 1961, and the name of Gagarin will forever fit into history and will be one of the most famous.’

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