Tag Archives: World Record for Altitude in Elliptical Orbit

12 April 1961, 06:06:59.7 UTC

Yuri Gagarin before launch. (RIA Novosti)

12 April 1961: At 06:06:59.7 UTC, Vostok-1 with Cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin was launched into Earth orbit from the Kosmodrom Baykonur, Kazakhistan. The spacecraft was a spherical Vostok 3KA-3 capsule which was carried to low Earth orbit by a three-stage Vostok 8K72K rocket.

Following first stage engine cut off, the first stage was jettisoned 1 minute, 59 seconds after liftoff. The payload fairing separated at 2 minutes, 34 seconds., and the second stage separation occurred at 4 minutes, 59 seconds. The Vostok spacecraft separated from the third stage at 06:18:28 UTC, 11 minutes 28 seconds after launch.

The Vostok was not capable of orbital maneuvering.

The Vostok spacecraft had an overall length of 5.040 meters (16 feet, 6.4 inches) and diameter of 2.500 meters ( 8 feet, 2.4 inches). The spherical crew/descent module had a diameter of 2.300 meters (7 feet, 6.6 inches). The gross mass was 4,730 kilograms (10,428 pounds).

Technicians working a Vostok spacecraft, circa 1961. (Science Photo Library)

The Vostok-K 8K72 was a modified R-7A Semyorka intercontinental ballistic missile. The R-7 rocket was designed by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, known as The Chief Designer.

The 8K72 version consisted of two core stages with four external boosters. The first stage and each of the boosters were powered by a four-nozzle RD-107 rocket engine burning kerosene and liquid oxygen. Total thrust was approximately 1,100,775 pounds of thrust (4,896.49 kilonewtons). The second stage used a RD-0105 engine, producing 11,015 pounds of thrust (48.997 kilonewtons).

Vostok I at Gagarin’s Start

The first two stages were 30.84 meters (101.18 feet) high and weighed 277,000 kilograms (610,680 pounds).

Gagarin made one orbit of the Earth, with an apogee of 315 kilometers and perigee of 169 kilometers. The orbital period was 89.34 minutes. The orbit was inclined 64.95° with reference to Earth’s axis.

While still in Earth orbit, Senior Lieutenant Gagarin received a field promotion to the rank of major.

Vostok I with Yuri Gagarin was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, 12 April 1961.
Vostok I, with Yuri Gagarin, launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome, 12 April 1961.

His reentry began over Africa, with the descent engine firing at 7:25:48.2 UTC. As the spacecraft was descending through 7,000 meters (20,966 feet), he ejected from the capsule and parachuted to the ground. The Vostok struck the ground at 07:48 UTC, and Gagarin landed approximately 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) away, near the village of Smelovka, Ternovsky District, Saratov Oblast, at 07:53 UTC.

Vostok I

Yuri Gagarin was the first human to travel in space. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) credited him with three World Records: Duration, 1 hour, 48 minutes.¹ Altitude in an Elliptical orbit, 327 kilometers (203 statute miles).² Greatest Mass Lifted to Altitude, 4,725 kilograms (10,417 pounds).³

Yuri Gagarin

Yuriy Alekseyevich Gagarin (Юрий Алексеевич Гагарин) was born at Klushino, a village in Smolensk Oblast, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, 9 March 1934. He was the third of four children of Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin, a carpenter, and Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina. The family, workers on a collective farm, were forced from their home when the village was occupied by German soldiers during the invasion of 1941.

In 1950, Gagarin became an apprentice at a steel foundry in Moscow. A school for workers allowed him to pursue an education. After a year, he was sent to a technical school at Saratov. It was while there that Gagarin first flew in an airplane, a Yakovlev Yak-18 trainer at the local aero club.

After graduating in 1955, Gagarin enlisted as a cadet at the military flight school at Orenburg. Gagarin graduated 6 November 1957 and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force.

Valentina Ivanova Gorycheva and Sergeant Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, circa 1957. (Rex features)

Just over a week earlier, 27 October 1957, Sergeant Gagarin married Valentina Ivanova Goryacheva, a medical technician at the air base. They would have two daughters.

Lieutenant Gagarin was assigned as an interceptor pilot at Nikel, an air base approximately 125 miles (201 kilometers) north of Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula. He flew the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter.

Cosmonaut trainees. Lieutenant Gagarin is seated in the front row, fourth from left. On his left is Sergei Korolev, The Chief Designer. (European Space Agency) ⁴

Lieutenant Gagarin was one of twenty pilots selected for the space program in 1960. This was further reduced to six cosmonaut candidates. Gagarin and Gherman Stepanovich Titov were the final two candidates for the first manned space launch, with Gagarin being chosen.

Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, Hero of the Soviet Union, photographed by Yousef Karsh.

Yuri Gagarin was killed in an airplane crash, 27 March 1968.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9326

² FAI Record File Number 9327

³ FAI Record File Number 9328

⁴ “Most of the cosmonaut group of 1960, with some of their instructors and wives. Front row, left to right: Pavel Popovich, Viktor Gorbatko, Yevgeni Khrunov, Yuri Gagarin, Chief Designer Sergei Korolev, his wife Nina Koroleva with Popovich’s daughter Natasha, Cosmonaut Training Centre Director Yevgeni Karpov, parachute trainer Nikolai Nikitin, and physician Yevgeni Fedorov. Second row, left to right: Alexei Leonov, Andrian Nikolayev, Mars Rafikov, Dmitri Zaikin, Boris Volynov, Gherman Titov, Grigori Nelyubov, Valeri Bykovsky, and Georgi Shonin. Back row, left to right: Valentin Filatyev, Ivan Anikeyev, and Pavel Belyayev.”

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 March 1965

Voskhod-2/11A57 launch vehicle on launch pad at Site 1, Baikonur Cosmodrome (Space Facts)

18 March 1965, 07:00:00 UTC (10:00:00 Moscow Time): Cosmonauts Павел Иванович Беляев (Pavel Ivanovich Belyaev) and Алексей Архипович Леонов (Alexey Arkhipovich Leonov) were launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Voskhod-3KD spacecraft, Восход-2 (Voskhod-2). The launch vehicle was a Voskhod 11A57 two-stage liquid-fueled rocket. Voskhod-2 entered a 167 × 475 kilometers (90 × 256 nautical miles) elliptical orbit with a period of 90 minutes, 54 seconds.

As the Voskhod entered its second orbit, co-pilot Major Leonov exited the vehicle. An expandable air lock was used. This was the first time that a human had left a vehicle in space. he floated freely, though remained connected by an umbilical. This would be known as an Extravehicular Activity (an “E.V.A.,” or “space walk”). Leonov remained outside for 12 minutes, 9 seconds, establishing the first FAI World Record for Extravehicular Duration in Space. ¹

Алексей Архипович Леонов (Alexey Arkhipovich Leonov) outside the Voskhod-2 spacecraft, 18 March 1965. (collectspace.com)

Both cosmonauts wore full-pressure suits (a “space suit”) for protection in the vacuum of space. With his suit fully inflated by pressurized air, Leonov was both larger and more rigid than was expected. He had great difficulty re-entering the Voskhod, requiring that he vent the suit pressure.

Leonov wrote about it for Air & Space:

With some reluctance I acknowledged that it was time to reenter the spacecraft. Our orbit would soon take us away from the sun and into darkness. It was then I realized how deformed my stiff spacesuit had become, owing to the lack of atmospheric pressure. My feet had pulled away from my boots and my fingers from the gloves attached to my sleeves, making it impossible to reenter the airlock feet first.

I had to find another way of getting back inside quickly, and the only way I could see to do this was pulling myself into the airlock gradually, head first. Even to do this, I would carefully have to bleed off some of the high-pressure oxygen in my suit, via a valve in its lining. I knew I might be risking oxygen starvation, but I had no choice. If I did not reenter the craft, within the next 40 minutes my life support would be spent anyway.

The only solution was to reduce the pressure in my suit by opening the pressure valve and letting out a little oxygen at a time as I tried to inch inside the airlock. At first I thought of reporting what I planned to do to mission control. But I decided against it. I did not want to create nervousness on the ground. And anyway, I was the only one who could bring the situation under control.

But I could feel my temperature rising dangerously high, with a rush of heat from my feet traveling up my legs and arms, due to the immense physical exertion all the maneuvering involved. It was taking longer than it was supposed to. Even when I at last managed to pull myself entirely into the airlock, I had to perform another almost impossible maneuver. I had to curl my body around in order to close the airlock, so pasha could activate the mechanism to equalize pressure between it and the spacecraft.

Once Pasha was sure the hatch was closed and the pressure had equalized, he triggered the inner hatch open and I scrambled back into the spacecraft, drenched with sweat, my heart racing.

“The Nightmare of Voskhod,” by Alexey Leonov, Air & Space Smithsonian, January 2005

Leonov  in the shadow of his spacecraft in orbit around the Earth, 18 March 1965.(collectspace.com)

On 19 March, Voshkod-2’s apogee set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude in Elliptical Orbit of 497,7 kilometers (268.7 nautical miles/309.3 statute miles). ²

The space craft began to lose pressure, with it’s oxygen tanks dropping by two-thirds during Orbit 13. It was thought that the mission might have to be cut short.

It was planned for Voskhod-2 to reenter on the 16th orbit, however the automatic landing system failed to fire the spacecraft’s retrorockets. Using the Voskhod’s primary engine, a manual reentry was initiated during the 18th orbit. The crew also had to oreint the spacecraft manually, and this caused them a delay of 46 seconds before initiating reentry. They overshot there expected landing point by approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles).

Voshkod-2 landed in remote area of Perm Krai at 09:02:17 UTC on 19 March. The duration of the flight was 1 day, 2 hours, 2 minutes, 17 seconds.

Having landed in a dense forest hundreds of miles from the nearest recovery teams, Belyaev and Leonov were were located about four hours later and a rescue team arrived the next day. A landing zone was cut in the forest and the cosmonauts were flown out by helicopter on 21 March.

Voskhod-2 landed in dense forest. The cosmonauts were not recovered for two days.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9336

² FAI Record File Number 9335

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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