Poyekhali! (Off We Go!)

The hour-and-a half long movie “First Orbit” includes original video and audio from Yuri Gagarin’s historic orbit of Earth, news reports from the time and video from the space station to recreate humankind’s first steps into outer space.

Yuri Gagarin

He was 5 ft 2 inches tall and had a great smile. 50 years ago on April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey into outer space and orbit the Earth. The Vostok-1 mission launched on a sunny morning from the Baikonur Cosmodrome located in the steppes of Kazakhstan. Upon takeoff, Gagarin called out “Poyekhali!” (Off we go!).

During the flight, his capsule ran on autopilot because mission planners were unsure how spaceflight would affect humans. Gagarin could take over and manually run the craft in case of emergency. He described weightlessness as hanging horizontally in his seat.

Vostok I capsule used by Yuri Gagarin, now on display at the RKK Energiya Museum outside of Moscow. Credit: SiefkinDR

Gagarin’s flight lasted 108 minutes (106 minutes by other accounts) as he completed one orbit around the Earth. As you watch and listen to the video, you can hear that he’s in great spirits. His call sign was ‘Cedar’, after the Siberian pine, while Ground Control was ‘Dawn’. Unlike today, where the astronauts return from the space station in a capsule suspended from a parachute, Gagarin had to eject from his capsule and land with his own parachute. I hope you enjoy the video. For more information about it and the historic mission, check out First Orbit.

Look for the moon and Regulus to pair up tonight high in southern sky at nightfall. Created with Stellarium

Clear skies forecast for your town tonight? Go out and give a look at the waxing gibbous moon. Five degrees or three fingers held together at arm’s length to its upper left you’ll see Leo’s brightest star Regulus. I’ve shown the entire constellation outline on the map at right, but moonlight may make some of the stars difficult to see. Regulus will be easy. How many will you be able to spot?