THE OFFICIAL ENGLISH-LANGUAGE REPORT OF THE FIRST HUMAN JOURNEY INTO OUTER SPACE, EVIDENTLY PREPARED FOR SUBMISSION TO THE FÉDÉRATION AÉRONAUTIQUE INTERNATIONALE AND SIGNED BY COSMONAUT YURI GAGARIN AND THE CHIEF ENGINEERS OF THE SOVIET SPACE PROGRAM.
From the Catalogue:
"On the 12th of April, 1961, the Soviet spaceship–sputnik VOSTOK was put in orbit around the Earth with me on board." With this simple and yet sensational statement, Major Yuri Gagarin began his personal "Report" on his mission into outer state, the final and most compelling section of the "Records File on the First Flight … on Spaceship–Sputnik 'Vostok.'"
The early years of the Space Race were dominated by the Soviet Union, who achieved a series of astonishing "firsts" in space (as well as some dramatic but unpublicized failures) while American astronauts were still flying sub-orbital missions. But no event demonstrated Soviet superiority—or stoked American fears—like the successful launch, orbit, and recovery of Yuri Gagarin. Science fiction had come to life and the possibilities and applications of space travel seemed without limit.
Gagarin describes his preparation for the flight and details his activities during it: "During the whole period of flight I was carrying out fruitful work under the programme. I ate and rank [sic] and maintained continuous radio communication with the Earth on different channels by telephone and telegraph. I controlled the operation of the spaceship equipment, sent reports to the Earth and recorded any observations in the logbook and on a magnetophone. During the whole period of weightlessness my work capacity was fully preserved, and I felt fine. Then in conformity with the flight programme at a definite time a command was given to descend, the brake power unit was switched on and the spaceship acquired a velocity necessary for landing. The landing predetermined by the flight programme was effected and I was back on the Earth happy to see my dear Soviet people."
The pioneering cosmonaut also recorded his observations of the earth from space. "From the height of 175–327 km there was a very good view of the Earth. Its surface had approximately the same appearance as when you look at it from a jet-plane flying at a high altitude. I could clearly distinguish big mountain ranges, big rivers, large forests, coastlines and islands. I had a good view of the clouds covering the Earth's surface and of the shadow they cast on the Earth. The sky was jet-black. The stars were somewhat brighter and clearer seen against that black background. The Earth had a very distinct and pretty halo. This halo could be clearly seen when looking at the horizon. It had a smooth transition from pale blue to blue, dark blue, violet and absolutely black. It was a magnificent picture."
Gagarin’s report follows nine other text sections: “Card of General Data,” giving general information about the flight and records achieved (flight duration, flight altitude, and weight lifted), pseudonymously signed by Soviet space engineers as V. A. Plaxin and I. G. Borisenko — “Statement of weighing of spaceship–sputnik ‘VOSTOK,’” giving the weight as 4,725 kilograms, with pseudonymous signatures of Plaxin, Borisenko, V. I. Bodrikov, and V. M. Stolmikov — “Statement of launching of rocket with spaceship–sputnik ‘VOSTOK,’” stating that lift-off took place at 9.07 Moscow time, with pseudonymous signature of Plaxin — “Statement of landing of VOSTOK spaceship,” describing the landing as taking place at 10.55 Moscow time, with pseudonymous signature of Borisenko — “Statement of defining of flight duration …,” described as 108 minutes, with pseudonymous signatures of Plaxin and Borisenko — “Statement of defining of maximum flight altitude …,” given as 327 km, with pseudonymous signatures of Plaxin and Borisenko — “Results of data processing of orbital measurements taken during the spaceship–sputnik ‘VOSTOK’ flight,” stating that “data processing” by “electronic computers” established that the period of orbital revolution was 89:34 minutes, with the average distance from the Earth’s surface being 327 km and the minimum being 181 km — “Technique of orbit elements determination …,” displaying numerous computational equations over the pseudonymous name of A. I. Sragovich — “Report on the arrangement of the spaceship–sputnik ‘VOSTOK’ and its special equipment,” listing sixteen major systems and units carried by the space craft, with pseudonymous signature of N. F. Konstantinov.
Following Gagarin’s concluding report are five leaves each with an original tipped-in black and white photograph with a printed caption, comprising Gagarin in military uniform, Gagarin in his flight suit, Gagarin about to board Vostok, an interior view of Vostok, and Gagarin speaking by telephone with Nikita Khrushchov after the completion of his mission.
The Soviets used pseudonyms in the “Records File,” in order to maintain the secrecy of the identities of the individual engineers and designers behind the flight. Konstantin Feoktistov was one of the titans of the Soviet Space Program, with major responsibility for assigning and coordinating the work of dozens of research and design institutes; he was also himself a cosmonaut. Feoktistov signed the “Report on the arrangement of the spaceship–sputnik ‘VOSTOK’ and its special equipment,” with an inversion of his actual name: "N. F. Konstantinov." Apparently, Sergei Korolev, the legendary Chief Designer of the Soviet Space Program, signed throughout as “V. A. Plaxin.”
The “Records File” also carefully obscures the fact that Vostok included a parachute ejection system for Gagarin. While it now seems irrelevant, had the Soviets revealed at the time that the Vostok spaceship was designed to eject Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin for a separate descent by parachute (the Vostok capsule itself landed too heavily), their space flight might have been disqualified for certification as a successful flight: the pilot, under the rules for aviation records, must return with his aircraft.
While evidently prepared for submission to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the present copy was not sent. According to Feoktistov, a number of minor typographical errors were discovered—including “left-off” for “lift-off”; “slight suit” for “flight suit”; and “rank” for “drank”—and it was reprinted. The full "Records File" consists of a printed title-page, and sixteen numbered leaves that include the ten text reports (printed on patterned paper similar to that used for stocks and bonds) and the five photographs.
THE “RECORDS FILE ON THE FIRST FLIGHT BY THE USSR CITIZEN COSMONAUT YURI ALEXEYEVICH GAGARIN” IS ONE OF THE GREAT RECORDS OF SPACE HISTORY AND HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT: A DOCUMENTARY MONUMENT FROM THE DAWN OF THE SPACE AGE, AND—WITH GAGARIN’S OWN SIGNED STATEMENT ON HIS MISSION—A NARRATIVE TO STAND WITH EXPLORATIONS AND VOYAGES OF COLUMBUS, VESPUCCI, AND MAGELLAN.
—Courtesy of Sotheby's
Cosmonaut Engineer Konstantin Feoktistov (Sotheby's, Russian Space History, 16 March 1996, lot 39)