The Vostok 3KA-2 Spaceship
Vostok 3KA-2 is not a prototype but an exact twin of Gagarin's Vostok 3KA-3 capsule, which was later designated Vostok 1.
Vostok 3KA-2 was a critical linchpin of the world's first manned space program, not only providing the "green light" for the first manned space flight, but afterwards serving for training at the Cosmonaut Training Center, Star City, and later providing the design model for Zenit and other spy satellites manufactured at the Central Specialized Design Bureau in Kuybyshev.
This is the only Vostok spaceship outside of Russia and the only one in private hands; all other surviving Vostok capsules are in permanent Russian museum collections.
Description of capsule: Of spherical form, Vostok 3KA-2 is constructed of aluminum alloy, with three large circular hatches, the "operations" hatch (now missing), through which technical work would be accomplished on the ground, the "cosmonaut" hatch, through which, in manned flight, the cosmonaut would both board and be ejected in descent, and the "parachute" hatch (now missing), from which the massive descent parachute would be deployed. The shell of the capsule is further pierced by a single porthole (two additional portholes were situated in hatch lids), and completely clothed in a thick layer of ablative thermal protection material, which ranges in thickness from 3 cm to 18 cm. The interior of the capsule originally contained nearly 1,800 pounds of instrumentation, consisting of some 6,000 transistors, 56 electrical motors, and 800 relays and switches, but in 1967, the interior of Vostok 3KA-2 was stripped as a security measure. The spaceship was then placed on exhibition at the Kuybyshev Training Institute, but it retained a "Secret" classification until 1986. The seat on which Ivan Ivanovich reclined survives with the capsule, as do two large fragments from the capsule's parachute.
Diameter of capsule: 7.26 feet (2.3 meters). Interior volume of the capsule: 1.6 cubic meters.
Exhibition History of Vostok 3KA-2
Kuybyshev Training Institute, Russia, 1967–1995 (admission restricted to cosmonauts, space program engineers, and political dignitaries)
The International Space Symposium, Washington, D.C., November 2000
The National Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, April 2001
Science Museum Oklahoma at Omniplex, Oklahoma City, June 2004–September 2005
The World Space Expo, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, November 2007–July 2008
Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, August 2008–August 2009
Wayne Biddle, Dark Side of the Moon: Wernher von Braun, the Third Reich, and the Space Race. New York, 2009
Deborah Cadbury, Space Race: The Epic Battle between America and the Soviet Union for Dominion of Space. New York, 2006
Paul Dickson, Sputnik: The Shock of the Century. New York, 2001
Rex Hall and David J. Shayler, The Rocket Men: Vostok & Voskhod, The First Soviet Manned Spaceflights. Chichester, 2001
Von Hardesty and Gene Eisman, Epic Rivalry: The Inside Story of the Soviet and American Space Race. Washington, 2007
James Harford, Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat American to the Moon. New York, 1997
Brian Harvey, Russia in Space: The Failed Frontier? Chichester, 2001
James E. Oberg, Red Star in Orbit: The Inside Story of Soviet Failures and Triumphs in Space. New York, 1981
Asif A. Siddiqi, Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge. University Press of Florida, 2003
Asif A. Siddiqi, The Soviet Space Race with Apollo. University Press of Florida, 2003
Bob Ward, Dr. Space: The Life of Wernher von Braun. Annapolis, 2005
Well, I don't know, but I've been told
The streets in heaven are lined with gold
I ask you how things could get much worse
If the Russians happen to get up there first
Wowee! pretty scary!
– Bob Dylan, "I Shall Be Free No. 10"
1: The Race for Space
The Russians—or, more accurately, the Soviets—did get to the heavens first, and while Bob Dylan may have been singing sardonically, it was a pretty scary time for many Americans. The USSR inaugurated the space age with the launch of the first manmade satellite, Sputnik 1, on 4 October 1957. The Soviet Union followed that startling success by putting the first living creature, the martyred rescue dog Laika, into orbit; launching Luna 1, the first manmade object to orbit the sun; crashing Luna 2 into the moon, the first the manmade object to impact another celestial body; sending Luna 3 into lunar orbit and taking the first photographs of the far side of the moon; returning from orbit the spacecraft Vostok 1K-2 and her canine passengers Belka and Strelka, the first successful recovery of a satellite from space; launching and recovering from orbit a fully prepared manned-type spacecraft, Vostok 3KA-2, carrying the cosmonaut-mannequin Ivan Ivanovich and the dog Zvezdochka; blasting the first man, Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin, into space and safely returning him after a single orbit of the earth in the spaceship Vostok 3KA-3 (later renumbered Vostok 1); maintaining cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov aboard Vostok 2 in orbit for more than a day while American astronauts were still flying sub-orbital missions; flying the first team mission in space, with Vostok 3 and Vostok 4 in orbit at the same time; sending the first woman into space, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova; launching Voskhod 1, the first spaceship with a multi-person crew; and taking the first spacewalk, in the person of cosmonaut Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov aboard Voskhod 2.
The United States responded to these Soviet successes, of course. It is no coincidence that President Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) less than a year after Sputnik sent shockwaves around the nation. Eisenhower's successor, John F. Kennedy, addressed a special joint session of the Congress just four months after his inauguration and proclaimed "that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."
Eisenhower and Kennedy—and the Congress and the American people, for that matter—recognized that America was losing the space race. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wouldn't let any of them forget it. The United States program advanced more cautiously than the Soviets', but it steadily drew even, advancing from sub-orbital Mercury flights, through orbiting manned vessels, to Gemini spacewalks. With the Apollo program, NASA finally eclipsed its Soviet counterparts and achieved one of the great prizes of the first phase of space exploration: landing men on the moon.
While James Webb was the Administrator of NASA from February 1961 through October 1968, the man who came to epitomize the American space program was someone very different from that career bureaucrat. Wernher von Braun was a minor aristocrat from Germany, a former SS officer sought after the War by all of the Allied powers—not for his possible culpability in war crimes, but for his expertise in rocket science.
While still a teenager, von Braun read Hermann Oberth's pioneering Rocket into Interplanetary Space and joined a mix of engineers and science-fiction enthusiasts called the Society for Space Travel. At about the same time he enrolled at the Technical College of Berlin, studying mechanical engineering; he eventually took a doctorate with a dissertation on certain aspects of liquid-fueled rocketry. Von Braun was recruited to lead the Nazi missile-development program, and while he later maintained that throughout this period his only true interest was space travel, he spent the next decade designing weapons for Hitler, culminating with the devastating V-2 rockets built at the infamous slave-labor camp Mittelbau-Dora.
As the armies of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain raced to secure their Yalta-established zones in Germany, von Braun arranged to surrender himself and hundreds of his co-workers to the Americans. Once in custody, he prepared a report on the importance and potential of rocket science, boldly predicting the development of spy satellites, space stations, and even interplanetary travel.
Brilliant and charismatic, von Braun was also controversial and mistrusted by many of his Army handlers. Frustrated at being kept away from the fledgling United States space program and set to work, once again, on military rockets, he became an eager popularizer of space exploration. As early as 1952 he published a series of articles in Collier's magazine confidently titled "Man Will Conquer Space Soon!" Two years later he began serving as technical advisor for a series of Walt Disney Studio television programs about space. Von Braun even dabbled, largely without success, with writing science fiction about manned flights to Mars.
Even after Sputnik, von Braun's opponents kept him away from the planned United States response until a softball-sized satellite carried by a Navy-designed Vanguard rocket blew up on its Cape Canaveral launch pad, inspiring a roster of derisory nicknames, including Dudnik and Kaputnik. Politicians, editorial writers, and the public demanded better, and any lingering misgivings that NASA's predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, might have had about von Braun's background were put aside. He and his team from the Army's Aviation and Missile Command of Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, were allotted a launch time at Cape Canaveral for a modified version of one of their massive Jupiter C rockets, and on 31 January 1958, the United States officially entered the space race with the successful launch of the Explorer 1 satellite into orbit.
Von Braun was invited to a celebration at the White House, and shortly afterwards President Eisenhower travelled to Huntsville to tour Missile Command with the designer. In 1960, von Braun's facility was subsumed by NASA and became known as the Marshall Space Flight Center. Almost immediately, he began work on the mammoth Saturn rockets that would eventually launch the Apollo capsules to the moon, and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson both followed Ike's lead in making pilgrimages to Huntsville. Not everyone was sanguine about the leading role that von Braun was playing in American space exploration: he was the subject of one of Tom Lehrer's satiric songs ("A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience"), and the 1960 biographical film of his life, I Aim At the Stars, quickly acquired the sub-title, "But Sometimes I Hit London." But in the context of one of the hottest periods of the Cold War, most Americans were happy that von Braun was one of "our Germans." Von Braun was happy that he was building rockets.
Ironically, von Braun was almost as well known behind the Iron Curtain as he was in the United States. His exploits were closely monitored by his nearest counterpart in the Soviet space program, a mystery man whose very existence was hidden as far as possible from the West. And the enigmatic "chief designer" was not one of "their Germans," although the Soviets had captured their share of engineers and scientists from Pennemünde, notably Helmut Gröttrup, as well as many components of the V-2 rocket. Rather, he was a Ukrainian-born survivor of Stalin's gulags who managed by force of will and his extraordinary astronautic acumen to keep the Soviet Union, a nation shattered by the twin devastations of Stalin's Terror and World War II, ahead of the United States in the scramble for space. Only after his death would NASA overtake the Soviets—and only after his death was his name revealed to the world by Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: Sergei Pavlovich Korolev.
2: Sergei Korolev and Vostok, the First Manned Space Program
The life of Sergei Pavlovich Korolev rivals that of Wernher von Braun in terms of drama, fortune, and intrigue, and if not for his untimely death in January 1966 at the age of fifty-nine, his life's work as an aerospace engineer and spacecraft designer might ultimately have eclipsed that of the German-American rocketeer.
The United States beat the USSR to von Braun, and von Braun beat the Soviets to the moon, but for the two decades between von Braun's initial posting to Fort Bliss in West Texas and Korolev's death, the American space program lagged behind the Russians. Like the hare of the fable, the Soviet Union led the (space) race for all but the final steps. The Soviet Union's long priority in space exploration was due almost entirely to the herculean efforts of Korolev, the shadowy "chief designer" of the Soviet space program, who labored without the financial support and public notoriety that von Braun attracted.
Nikita Khrushchev delighted in his role as chief promoter of Soviet space supremacy. Yuri Gagarin and other early cosmonauts became national, and international, heroes. But Sergei Korolev worked in anonymity: referred to only as the "chief designer of carrier rockets and spacecraft," never mentioned by name, never interviewed by the press, seldom photographed or seen in public—and not identified when he was. His emergence as the man who would lead the USSR's quest to put a man on the moon was, if possible, even less likely than von Braun's improbable route to NASA.
Like von Braun, Korolev was interested in aviation as a youth and quickly became fascinated by rocketry and the idea of space travel. He attended Kiev Polytechnic Institute and Baumann Higher Technical School in Moscow. Korolev was captivated by the writings of Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, the founder of modern rocket science and cosmo- (or astro-) nautics. Korolev was inspired by Tsiolkovsky's vision of space travel as much as by his engineering sketches and mathematical formulae. Fifty years before Gagarin's flight, Tsiolkovsky had already predicted to the Russian engineer Voris Vorobiev that "Mankind will not remain on the Earth forever, but in pursuit of light and space, we will, timidly at first, overcome the limits of the atmosphere, and then conquer all the area around the Sun." Korolev came to embrace this prophecy, but adapted it to the Cold War, proclaiming that the purpose of his research was "to ensure that a Soviet man be the first to fly a rocket [and that] Soviet rockets and Soviet spaceships are the first to master the limitless space of the cosmos." (Interestingly, von Braun's mentor, Hermann Oberth, also fell under the spell of Tsiolkovsky, and wrote to him in 1929, "You have ignited the flame. We shall not permit it to be extinguished; we shall make every effort so that the greatest dream of mankind might be fulfilled.")
As a young engineer in the aircraft industry, Korolev joined a club headed by Fridrikh Tsander, the Group for the Study of Reactive Propulsion, that was studying rocket propulsion and designing and launching its own small liquid-propelled rockets. Here he first met Valentin Petrovich Glushko, the rocket engineer who was to be his colleague and nemesis until the end of his life. And just as the Nazi Army took notice of von Braun and his rocketry club, the Soviet military recognized the implication of Korolev's amateur rocket research for missile development. Tsander's Group was converted into an official missile research center in 1933, and Korolev was commissioned as a General-Engineer. By 1938, the Stalinist foment of paranoia and uncertainty reached the Red Army armament ministry, and Korolev and many of his colleagues were denounced and imprisoned in the Kolyma gulag along the Siberian coast.
Korolev was eventually transferred to a special prison near Moscow, where he and other engineers and scientists were able to continue their researches under close supervision. After the Second World War, Korolev was released from prison—though not yet officially rehabilitated—and sent to Germany to study captured rocket sites and equipment and to interview German technicians and engineers.
After Stalin's death in 1953, Korolev was finally rehabilitated (and he may have done another stint in the gulag prior to that) and taken under the protection of Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Stalin as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Korolev's determination and confidence mesmerized the ambitious politician, and he funded Korolev's space program for the next decade, even at the expense of the Soviet defense budget. Khrushchev later recalled his first meeting with the chief designer: "When he showed us one of his rockets, we thought it looked like nothing but a huge cigar-shaped tube, and we didn't believe it would fly. ... [But] we had absolute confidence in Comrade Korolev. When he expounded his ideas, you could see passion burning in his eyes, and his reports were always models of clarity. He had unlimited energy and determination, and he was a brilliant organizer."
By 1957, Khrushchev had taken control of almost every aspect of the Soviet government, and he seized on the advent of the International Geophysical Year as a means to demonstrate to the world the supremacy of Russian science and technology. Korolev and his team were ordered to put an artificial satellite into orbit before the Americans did. Remarkably, in just six weeks Korolev's Design Bureau OKB-1 designed and built a spherical satellite, 23 inches in diameter, with four long whip aerials, to be launched by one of their R-7 rockets. James Oberg's pioneering study of the Russian space program, Red Star in Orbit, described Sputnik as "a radio transmitter hooked up to a thermometer and powered by a pack of chemical batteries. The object was affectionately known as the 'PS,' the preliminary satellite—and this caused some confusion among many newly arrived engineers, since Korolev himself was known to his men as 'old SP,' for Sergei Pavlovich. The two nicknames ... were often mixed together indiscriminately in those weeks, their intimate relationship blending in the minds of the workers into one entity. It was Korolev, or a significant part of him, who would be riding on that rocket."
Sputnik was a great triumph that ignited the world's imagination. Launched on 4 October 1957, the satellite orbited the earth for three months, and for its first three weeks in space it transmitted a simple radio signal back to its home planet. The success of Sputnik forced the Russians to confront the question of which aspect of their space program had priority: manned space flight or intelligence gathering. For Korolev, this was an easy decision.
Less than a year after launching Sputnik, Korolev began to crystallize his plans to put a man into space. In 1958 his Design Bureau produced a groundbreaking research paper: "Report: Materials from a Preliminary Study for a Manned-Earth Satellite (Object OD-2)." OD-2 was the code name for this new and massive "satellite"; after much discussion and testing, Korolev decided the manned satellite should be spherical. The aerodynamics of a circular form were easy to predict, and simple alterations in flight characteristics could be made by shifting the center of gravity. A sphere was also the most economical shape, providing the greatest possible proportion of volume to surface area. Initially Korolev intended only a portion of the capsule to be pressurized, but he soon decided to make the entire capsule airtight. A parachute was chosen as the most practical means of descent, but only after Korolev had toyed with the idea of a helicopter-type descent rotor. (Helicopter designers offered little encouragement for this idea.)
In 1959, prototype Vostok-like balls were made, and a total of five were dropped from high altitude airplanes, and the last of the drops carried a cargo of animals.
By 1960, Korolev was ready to space-test his OD-2, now called Vostok, or East, presumably because he would be sending men to where the sun rose. It was at this time that the Cosmonaut Corps was also formed, that a Training Center was built for them at Star City, a bespoke suburb of Moscow, and that a vast and secret launch cosmodrome was constructed. This launch site was located near Tyuratam in Kazahkstan, but for security reasons, it was called Baikonur, after a town some 250 miles distant.
Of greatest uncertainty to Korolev was the design of the braking rocket, or "TDU," which was necessary to slow the orbiting spacecraft and so allow it to re-enter the atmosphere. The first space test of a Vostok spaceship took place on 15 May 1960. This craft, named Vostok-1KP, had no heat shield. Interestingly, this was done so that the capsule would disintegrate on reentry and so not fall into "the hands of our competitors," as the cosmonaut-engineer Konstantin Feoktistov later revealed. Over Africa the TDU was activated, but to Korolev's dismay the spacecraft actually increased its speed, climbing to a higher orbit. On analysis, it was determined that the orientation of the craft had to be incorrect due to a failed sensor. This set-back would continue to hang like a Sword of Damocles over Gagarin's flight less than a year later—had a man been aboard the Vostok-1KP, he would have died an isolated death in an irrecoverable orbit. After nearly two and a half years in space, Vostok-1KP was destroyed by natural orbital decay. Still, Korolev was able to see the bright side. "This means we are gaining experience in maneuvering in space," he said.
A new version of the Vostok capsule was next prepared, incorporating a heat shield and intended to be returned to earth from orbit. However, this next-generation capsule was also equipped with a secrecy-preserving self-destruct mechanism capable of being activated should the spacecraft wander off course. Four Vostok 1K spaceships were built and launched in 1960. The results could not have been encouraging for Korolev and his team at Design Bureau OKB-1.
A first-stage booster rocket on Vostok 1K-1 malfunctioned just seventeen seconds after its launch on 15 July. The entire launch vehicle was destroyed in the resulting explosion and two dogs onboard, Chaika and Lisichka, were killed. Vostok 1K-3 was launched on 1 December, carrying canines Pchelka and Mushka and other biological payload, and orbited successfully, but its re-entry rocket misfired, directing it towards a landing outside of its planned recovery zone. The self-destruction system was activated and the spaceship and its passengers were lost. Three weeks later, 22 December, Vostok 1K-4 aborted shortly after lift-off due to an ignition failure. The capsule, with its requisite pair of dogs, Shutka and Kometa, separated successfully and was recovered in Siberia. The dogs survived only because in this flight the self-destruct apparatus did not function properly.
In the midst of these demoralizing failures, however, Korolev achieved one great success. Vostok 1K-2 lifted off from Baikonur on 19 August, carrying the dogs Belka and Strelka, a dozen mice, and other biological and agricultural specimens. Vostok 1K-2 completed eighteen orbits in a flight of a little over 26 hours; the reentry rockets fired perfectly, and the capsule landed within six miles of its designated target. This was the first time a man-made object of any kind was successfully recovered from orbit—and obviously also the first time that living creatures had been successfully returned to earth from orbit. Vostok 1K-2 was one of Korolev's crowning achievements, a triumph that gave him the courage and confidence—despite the other 1K failures—to proceed with the next phase of the Vostok program: testing a craft capable of carrying a man into space.
At this point, some 7,000 engineers and technicians representing 123 organizations and 36 factories were working on the Vostok project, all under the direction of Korolev and his OKB-1 Bureau. The capsule was again refined, this time in order to accommodate a human passenger. This new Vostok spacecraft was designated the 3KA. Three vessels were built, all available for test runs prior to putting a man in space.
V. P. Efimov, an engineer with Zvezda, later explained the purpose of the test flights: "All the Vostok systems, including the ejections unit with its cascade of parachute devices, and the spacesuit, with its life-support system and its emergency stock kit, were tested for reliability. At the same time it was important to test not only the serviceability of all the systems, but also the interactions of the launching and flight tracking services, as well as of the whole complex of the search and rescue operations. That is why the launching of the rocket from the Baikonur launch site was performed precisely at the same time of day as scheduled for the upcoming manned space flight."
Unlike the 1K missions, the performance of the Vostok 3KA capsules was nearly flawless. The first blasted off on 9 March carrying a single dog, Chernuska, as well as mice, guinea pigs, reptiles, and other specimens. Also aboard was a mannequin, wearing a regulation cosmonaut spacesuit. Vostok 3KA-1 executed a single orbit, fired its retro-rockets, and returned to earth, with both the mannequin (later destroyed) and Chernuska safely recovered.
3. Vostok 3KA-2
For once, however, Korolev moved cautiously, as the enormous responsibility of deciding when to launch a man outside of the earth's atmosphere began to weigh on him. Recalling the failed 1K flights of 1960, Korolev insisted on one last "dress rehearsal" before a manned flight. The horrible training accident of cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko also argued for prudence. On 23 March 1961, Bondarenko, the youngest member of the first cosmonaut team, was completing a ten-day stay in the isolation chamber, when he inadvertently tossed a cotton swab soaked in alcohol onto a hotplate. The oxygen-rich chamber instantly burst into flames, and Bondarenko died from his burns a few hours later.
But just two days after Bondarenko's death, Korolev proceeded with the launch of Vostok 3KA-2, the spaceship offered here. On board was another life-size cosmonaut-mannequin, which acquired the nickname "Ivan Ivanovich." (Ivan Ivanovich was consigned to Sotheby's by Zvezda and sold in our Russian Space History auction, 11 December 1993, lot 10. The mannequin has been on exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum since 1997.) Ivan Ivanovich, dressed in a full Vostok spacesuit, shared the spaceship with one dog, Zvezdochka (Little Star), and the usual rodent-heavy payload. Vostok 3KA-2 was the first space launch actually witnessed by the cosmonaut corps, which did not yet know which of them would be the first man in space.
Vostok 3KA-2 rocketed into space on a single-orbit flight lasting 100 minutes. Once again, the return-rockets performed perfectly, and the spaceship and "crew" returned safely to a snow-bound Russia. Ivan Ivanovich, like Yuri Gagarin eighteen days later, was separated after reentry by ejection from the Vostok space capsule. The capsule, ejection seat, and cosmonaut-mannequin (or cosmonaut) all then descended separately on individual parachutes.
The landing site was near to the city of Izhevsk, but almost impossible to reach because of deep snow. Thirty paratroopers had been sent to guard the weather-bound site, where the ground lay under almost five feet of snow. The rescue party of engineers required a ski plane, and in an ultimate irony, a peasant's horse-drawn sleigh to reach the landing site. Engineer Efimov recalled the difficulty of finding the spaceship with other members of Zvezda.
"It was already around 2 pm, and we were warned on radio transmitter, that 'Ivan Ivanovich' had landed in the area of the village of Bolshaya Sosnovka, some eighty km from the city of Izhevsk, behind the Votkinskaya Hydroelectric station. But because of the heavy snowstorm, helicopters of the search and rescue service could not make their way to us. Meanwhile to provide for the safety of the recovery site, thirty paratroopers—extremely brave and dedicated men—landed. Supplies parachuted to them were scattered through the woods by the stormy blizzard, and their recovery was impossible. The blizzard stormed the whole day. Everyone was in an awful mood. The Secretary of the Izhevsk regional party committee did his utmost to keep up the good spirits of the team. Only on the morning of 24 March was it possible to send in a four-seater monoplane. But still there were problems—on take-off the left skid of the plane plunged into a deep snow drift and the propeller broke off. The plane was urgently substituted by another one, and a team of three rescue workers proceeded to the landing location. The plane successfully landed on its skis in the neighborhood of the village of Bolshaya Sosnovka. The snow was one and a half meters deep under the plane, and, below the drifts, the snow was melting—an early sign of the coming spring."
The rocket scientists could not figure out how to reach the capsule, but Efimov's narrative explains the solution: "A peasant's brain sometimes proves to be a good match for a clever academic. After some hesitation a villager harnessed his horse to a country sleigh, and drew the sleigh close to the plane. Thus, by sleigh, the rescue team reached the landing place of the descent capsule. Half scorched, slightly bent over the ground, it seemed an enormous animal driven too hard, lying in a narrow snow-covered gully, the snow melting around the charred and still hot body of the unit. Attached to it by slings, lay sprawling the voluminous canopy of the parachute. One of the rescuers stayed with the unit, while the other two proceeded to the landing place of 'Ivan Ivanovich.' The search did not take long. A short distance from the village outskirts, where fields began, was a streaming brook. Water from the early melting snow was gathering its strength, as if readying itself for an uncompromising fight with Siberian winter. On the other side of the brook there was a forest, cut by a short narrow opening. In the middle of that opening stood a big fir tree, with thick forest bedding. The Earth seemed to have been expecting this to happen, to have the chance to embrace the wonder created by man's intellect. Centenarian trees looked as if they had just parted to leave a small clearing, and in its middle, slightly reclining on one side, in deep snow, there was the orange-colored hero. One would think it was an exhausted traveler, frozen dead for having lost his fight with invincible Nature. But there were many puzzling things about this picture: the queer orange-colored suit with a mysterious helmet on his head; the multitude of slings stretching out from his shoulders towards a large bright colored canopy, its apex sitting right under the crown of the great fir tree. The weather was cloudless and calm after the blizzard that had lasted so many days, and there was a special magic about the whole picture.
"But in the distance there were several men, wearing caps with earflaps, heavy long sheepskin jackets and worn out mittens. They stood together gloomily, their brows knitted sternly. The residents of that village were apparently 'old believers'—people sullen and intolerant of any injustice. It turned out that the majority of them were demonstrating their anger against the paratroopers who stood guarding the landing place.
"The villagers had asked the paratroopers to let them go to that person in the spacesuit who lay frozen in the snow, so that they could provide him with any aid at their disposal. But the guardian paratroopers kept telling them about a mannequin named 'Ivan Ivanovich,' who was wearing that spacesuit. The incident was settled after the crowd of 'old believers' delegated their senior, who, showing an extreme dignity, walked unhurriedly across the paratrooper-trampled ground, toward the reclining figure, and touched, through the open helmet of the spacesuit, the rubbery, cold face of the dummy-cosmonaut. Fully assured now that any help of theirs would be irrelevant, the villagers started slowly to leave the place and to return to their routine."
The spaceship, Ivan Ivanovich, and Zvezdochka were subjected to thorough examination, and as with Vostok 3KA-1, the performance of all systems was judged excellent. Efimov's summation of the significance of Vostok 3KA-2 must certainly have been shared by Sergei Korolev: "This flight made those who had been working on the final preparations for the world's first manned space flight greatly confident of the day to come." Konstantin Feoktistov, the engineer in Korolev's design bureau who later joined the cosmonauts corps, had a similar but simpler reaction to the success of Vostok 3KA-2: "Now man can fly in space."
Vostok 3KA-2 can truly be said to have given the green light for Gagarin's flight, or, in the phrase of James Oberg, to have been the key that opened the door for the first cosmonaut. Nine days after its flight, a conference at Star City on 3 April 1961 reached the decision to put a man in space. The man, though, had not yet been chosen, and Gherman Titov had his advocates, as well as Yuri Gagarin. Korolev, however, favored Gagarin and he was part of the State Commission that on 8 April named Gagarin the cosmonaut for the first manned orbit, with Titov selected as his back-up. Four days later, Gagarin boarded Vostok 3KA-3, an exact twin of the present capsule, and executed a textbook orbital flight and return.
Less than fifty years after the Wright Brothers made the first powered aircraft flight of 12 seconds in duration and 120 feet in distance, Sergei Korolev had sent a man into outer space. Of all of the subsequent achievements of the Russian space program both with and after Korolev—and including the extraordinary achievements of the American space program—putting the first man in space still stands as perhaps the most unexpected and astonishing accomplishment.
Yuri Gagarin was instantly transformed into a national hero and an international celebrity. After his post-landing debriefing, he was escorted to Moscow by seven fighter jets for a huge parade. The patriotic fervor and national pride that swept the Soviet Union had not been seen since Victory Day following World War II. Khrushchev declared that Gagarin's feat had granted him immortality, and the cosmonaut became known as the "Columbus of the Cosmos." Ironically, the state decided that Gagarin had become too significant to risk in another space flight, and he travelled across the Soviet Union, and around the world, promoting the Soviet space program, meeting world leaders ranging from Fidel Castro to Harold Macmillan.
Tsiolkovsky, Korolev's greatest inspiration, famously said that "The earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever." Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon may have been a giant leap for mankind, but man's first halting steps beyond earth's cradle were directed by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev.
With Vostok 3KA-3 (later designated Vostok 1) in the Energia Museum near Moscow, Vostok 3KA-2 is the closest one can ever come to the first spacecraft flown by man.
The cosmonauts and engineers of the Soviet space program followed the Apollo program closely, and many gathered together to watch the Apollo 11 lunar landing. When the television screens displayed images of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon, according to Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space, the Soviet viewing room burst into applause. "Everyone forgot that we were all citizens of different countries on Earth," he wrote. "That moment really united the human race."
There is no doubt that after Gagarin's safe return from orbit American astronauts and NASA engineers would have applauded Sergei Korolev—if only they had known who he was.