Tag Archives: vostok

[August 15, 1962] Four Feet Over (the dual flight of Vostok 3 and Vostok 4)

[if you’re new to the Journey, reference this summary article to see what we’re all about.]


by Gideon Marcus

America just can’t seem to catch a break in the Space Race.  Late last night, the latest Soviet spectacular came to a stunning conclusion: two Cosmonauts had circled the Earth for several days, at one point flying within just 75 miles of each other. 

Major Andrian Nikolaev, 33 and a Chuvash Russian, kicked off the mission the early morning (our time) of August 11.  His Vostok 3 (“Falcon”) was in space for a full day before his spaecebound comrade, 32-year old Ukrainian Lt. Col. Pavel Popovich blasted off in Vostok 4 (“Golden Eagle”), morning of August 12.  TV broadcasts of the two came frequently via Moscow; we saw the cosmonauts floating freely in their small cabins, chatting with each other over the radio, even singing songs.  Breathless news reporters informed that the two craft had “rendezvoused” early on in the flight.  The cosmonauts landed near midnight (our time) within just a few minutes of each other, both of them making the full journey in their ships (as opposed to Titov, who for some reason baled out of Vostok 2 before it reached the ground).

The flight of Vostoks 3 and 4 is a Big Deal.  For four days, there were Russians in space doing impressive things.  It made our prior three-orbit flights look pathetic in comparison.  But the big question is this: Did the two craft actually rendezvous and dock under their own power, a feat that would demonstrate not only a tremendous Communist lead on our program, but an ability to intercept and destroy our own satellites? 

Many government officials are being cagey in their responses, but the answer is “probably not.”  Falcon and Eagle flew closest together in their first few orbits, quickly drifting apart over subsequent ones.  There wasn’t time to link up.  And if the Russians had actually docked, “They would have announced it,” deputy NASA administrator Dr. Hugh L. Dryden said.

This makes sense.  Neither of the prior Vostoks displayed any ability to modify their orbits, and it would suggest a great advancement in Soviet technology if the new ones did.  Rather, the “rendezvous” was merely a demonstration of skilled orbital trajectory calculations and an admittedly impressive ability to launch multiple missions in rapid succession.

Those are the particulars.  Where does this leave us in the big picture? 

Five years ago, the Soviets beat us to the orbital punch, lofting the first two Sputniks.  Though we followed with our own Explorer just three months later, it was with a lighter, less capable rocket.  In 1958-60, we made nearly ten unsuccessful attempts to launch a moon probe.  In the same time frame, the Russians had at least two successes, including the dramatic Luna 3, which took the first pictures of the Far Side of the moon.

Last year, the USSR put the first man in orbit, and it was almost a year until we could match the feat (and not before the put a fellow up in space for a full day – we’ve barely managed less than five hours).  And now this dual Vostok flight.

Some outlets are going ape with dire predictions.  The Communists are several years ahead, they say, on track to land on the moon by 1965!  At a shallow glance, it certainly seems like the Reds are way ahead of us.

But let’s look at things soberly.  I suspect that the booster the Soviets used for Vostok is largely the same one they used for Sputnik.  It’s the equivalent of our Atlas.  It was just available to them several years earlier.  Thus, Vostok doesn’t reflect any major advancement in Russian launch capability – just a fuller utilization of it.  Now that we’ve got the Atlas working for us, we’re on a much more level playing field.  Also, the American Mercury space capsule will ultimately be capable of day-long flights, too.  We just like to take things a bit slower than our reckless Communist adversaries.

And let’s not forget that while the Soviets have launched about 20 flights since 1957 (that they’ve divulged), we’ve launched 100.  The Explorer series is already up to 12, Discoverer almost to 50.  Not to mention the parallel and impressive X-15 rocketplane program, whose successor, the X-20, will be a fully orbital and reusable spaceplane.  Finally, Mariner 2, our Venus probe, is set for launch next month.  We can assume the Soviets will have their counterpart, but it won’t beat us to the planet of love; it will merely escort it.

So don’t panic yet.  Until the Soviets display a true rendezvous in space, or present us with an entirely new spacecraft, they are not that far ahead of us in the Space Race and, I submit, are in some ways behind us.  Ask me again come December…




[August 7, 1961] Day-O!  (Vostok 2 spends day in orbit)


by Gideon Marcus

For a few bright weeks, it looked as if the United States might be gaining in the Space Race.  Now, the Reds have pulled forward again with a most astonishing announcement: their second cosmonaut, a Major Gherman Titov, orbited the Earth in his “Vostok 2” for an entire day before coming safely back to Earth this morning.

As usual, details of the launch were not divulged until Comrade Titov was already in space.  He circled the globe a record 17 times (compare to his predecessor, Gagarin’s, single orbit).  The flight lasted long enough that Americans had the unique, if not entirely pleasant, opportunity to both go to bed and awaken with the knowledge that a Russian was whizzing just a matter of miles over their house.

This flight comes almost on the heels of that of our second spaceman, Captain Gus Grissom, who flew into space for a comparatively puny 15 minutes on July 21.  For a few short weeks, the free world held the lead, if not in time in space, then at least number of astronauts.  The Soviets have now made that success look feeble.  In fact, I am now hearing rumors that astronaut John Glenn’s suborbital Mercury flight, scheduled for next month, will likely be canceled.  There is no propaganda value left in half-measures, and besides, Shepard’s and Grissom’s flights taught us all there was to be learned from the Redstone launched missions.

Now, there is a whole lot of worry being dispensed by the newspapers over Titov’s flight.  Many speculate that there is no way we can catch up to the Communists in our race for the Moon.  After all, our first orbital flight is still untold months away; before an American ever orbits the Earth, the Russians may have a space station or even a foothold on our nearest celestial neighbor.

I think these fears are unfounded.  Vostok 2 was almost assuredly the same type of ship as Gagarin’s Vostok 1.  It was designed, like our Mercury, to endure several days in orbit.  The increase in orbits from 1 to 17 does not reflect a seventeen-fold increase in Soviet space capability – merely greater use of Vostok’s full potential.

Similarly, the 15 minute flights of Freedom 7 and Liberty Bell 7 reflect but a tiny proportion of the Mercury spacecraft’s endurance.  When the Atlas booster is on-line in a few months, you will see the American program accomplishing the same feats as that of the Soviets.  I’m willing to bet our lunar ship, which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration began work on earlier this year, will be done before its Russian counterpart, too.

We have to remember that the timing of the Soviet missions is designed for maximum psychological effect.  Without taking anything away from the 26-year old Titov’s noteworthy trip, I note that it occurred just as tensions over Berlin reached their highest since the Commnunist blockade of 1948.  Khruschev is flexing his muscles, both on the land and in space, hoping that Kennedy will blink if the Soviets carry out their threat to wall off their side of Berlin from ours. 

Now is not the time to get discouraged.  Not in the Space Race, not in the Cold War.  As I’ve said before, the Race to the Moon is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

[April 15, 1961] London Calling (a peek at UK fandom)

Every once in a while, one comes across a supremely talented, like-minded person.  Ashley R. Pollard is a gifted writer from England who is shopping around her first novel.  I discovered her through her columns in a British ‘zine; I was so impressed that I asked if she’d like to join the Journey as a contributor, writing on fandom in the UK.  To my intense gratification, she agreed.  Here is her first article…

Out of the blue I received a letter from across the pond asking me if I would have a mind to contribute to Galactic Journey and that is how I came to find myself writing this entry for this journal.  To say I was delighted to be known to an American writer would be an understatement, but to be able to write for the Journey in such exciting times as these, the Dawn of the Space Age, is quite frankly a privilege.  When Sputnik took to the heavens on October the Fourth, 1957, my work colleagues could no longer pass off my taste for reading science fiction as some abnormal fancy but rather as a sign of prescience.

Now a Red star has risen in the East — Vostok — aboard the ship is the first human in space: Major Yuri Gagarin, who is now a Hero of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and by extension a hero for all mankind.  The local prestige of our former wartime allies had plunged due to the recent discovery and capture of the Portland Spy Ring, causing ripples of concern over secrets lost, so having Major Gagarin take over the headlines has been welcome change — if only from one kind of paranoia to another: Reds with atomic secrets versus Reds in Space!  And because it turns my liking for all things to do with rocketry into a respectable talking point at parties.

Certainly, Thursday nights conversation at The London Circle, a meeting of like minded science fiction fans, was of nothing else.  (The London Circle was the basis for Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart.  I will not be drawn into the recent fan feud that has split the group because I attend for the ambience of the pub and the chance to have a G&T with ice and a slice. How very non-fannish of me.)

Of course, this being Britain, we had to draw comparisons to Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass Experiment and the British Experimental Rocket Group and what happened to the hapless astronaut to leaven the concerns of those who see Soviet dominance in space as threat to World Peace.

As you can well imagine our conversations were more along the lines of aliens returning to Earth with Major Gagarin, and what would the Russian counter-part of Bernard Quatermass do?

Perhaps, it was opined, the reason that his landing site is undisclosed is because Russian forces are engaged in confronting the alien threat to save the world.  Though, as I said at the time this idea was broached, I imagined that if so then Pravda would be telling us all about the heroic actions of the brave Soviet soldiers who died to save the world.  As we’ve not heard anything to this effect it is simpler to imagine that secret of where Major Gagarin landed is merely something the Politburo do not wish to disclose for fear of Western spies — tit for tat being a common response.

As per my wont, I also mentioned a television series that had caught my eye, engaging fellow fans with a comparison and contrast of visions of the future and the impact of science fictional ideas upon.  I had my listeners’ rapt attention until I revealed that said show was Supercar a production using puppets produced by Gerry Anderson & Arthur Provis of AP Films for ATV (the London independent TV franchise) and ITC Entertainment (a production and distribution company).

I came across this Saturday morning show quite by chance when looking after a friend’s child who sat totally absorbed by the adventures of Mike Mercury, the pilot of the eponymous Supercar, and the science team who created it: Professor Rudolph Popkiss and Dr. Horatio Beaker.  Admittedly I missed some of the initial episode from being too caught up in reading my newspaper, the aforementioned headlines about the spy ring; but the catchy theme tune and more importantly the silence of the young boy watching kept drawing my attention from what I was reading.

What could be so fascinating that a six years old would stay still and quiet for so long?


I have since sat with him to watch Supercar together.  It’s a delightful concoction with a totally over the top opening sequence that can’t fail to attract the attention of the most jaded viewer.  The attention to detail is superb, for example, the opening sequence of events with Supercar flying up through the clouds banking over and then diving underwater are lovingly shot with music from Barry Gray that will stir the hearts of young and old alike.  More importantly it shows a future suffused with optimism…where cars fly!  I almost feel guilty for taking the babysitting money on Saturdays.  Almost but not quite.

Finally, to end this missive, and because I’m running out of blue airmail paper and worried about the cost of sending some photographs I acquired, I would like to mention another television show that has caught my eye.

It’s called The Avengers and features the rather hunky and adorable Ian Hendry who is supported by a debonaire Patrick Macnee, who looks vaguely familiar but for the life of me I can’t recall what he has performed in before.  I mention this show in passing because it riffs on the James Bond books, and with the Dr. No film coming out next year, I predict a spate of spy adventures gracing television and the silver screen.

However, the real excitement remains Major Gagarin’s achievement and the effects this will have on East-West diplomacy.  If only the world leaders could see the bigger picture here and (to bang on my favourite drum) hope for the future — something that the makers of Supercar caught in their children’s puppet show.  A future bright with possibilities from mankind’s ingenuity which will save the day whatever the adversity we face.

[April 12, 1961] Stargrazing (the flight of Vostok)

The jangling of the telephone broke my slumber far too early.  Groggily, I paced to the handset, half concerned, half furious.  I picked it up, but before I could say a word, I heard a frantic voice.

“Turn on your radio right now!”

I blinked.  “Wha..” I managed. 

“Really!” the voice urged.  I still didn’t even know who was calling. 

Nevertheless, I went to the little maroon Zenith on my dresser and turned the knob.  The ‘phone was forgotten in my grip as I waited for the tubes to warm up.  10 seconds later, I heard the news.

It happened.  A man had been shot into orbit.  And it wasn’t one of ours.

Last night, Major Yuri Alekseyivich Gagarin blasted off from the Soviet Union in his Vostok spacecraft (Vostok means “East” in Russian, and it is in that direction that the rocket flew).  He circled the Earth once before landing with his vehicle.  Protected only by steel walls and a space suit, he made it to orbit and back.  I had to sit down, so dizzying was the news.

I’ve now had a few hours to think about this event and determine just what it means for all of us.

For ages, humanity has dreamed about journeying to outer space.  We have now finally taken our first shuffling steps off of our world. 

Half a century ago, a Russian named Tsiolkovsky determined the first practical way to get there — at the tips of rockets.  So it is appropriate that the first human to traverse the regions beyond our atmosphere was a Russian. 

For the Communists, it is yet another victory in a race that as yet has no finish line.  A demonstration of their superior rocketry, or perhaps a greater willingness to gamble with a person’s life. 

For the Americans, it is a challenge to meet, not a discouragement.  “It doesn’t change our program one bit,” said Marine Colonel John Glenn, who may well be the first American in space.

For science fiction fans, the impact is tremendous.  We have been writing about space travel for decades like a virgin writes about intercourse: avidly, but without experience.  Just the other month, there were published stories involving the predicted psychic and physical dangers of space, too horrible to be surmounted.

And yet, Gagarin did it.  If he can, others will.  Space may not be safe, but it is survivable.

Soon, we will have a flood of new data, and our s-f stories will change accordingly to accommodate.  I expect we’ll have fewer tales of astronauts who jaunt out in their rocket as if they’re out on a Sunday drive, more stories of space programs and the thousands of engineers who make up the bulk of the logistical iceberg. 

Some have opined that the more we explore the frontiers that were once solely the province of fiction, the less magical we make our world.  I must disagree.  This new frontier has hardly been touched, and even when we have thoroughly mapped the regions of low orbit, there is then high orbit, the Moon, the planets, the stars.  Each frontier is a gateway to the next.

Today, science fiction is fact, and the domain of science fiction has broadened.  I’ve never been more excited.