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Watch this Space Watch this Space
by Clint Wayne
2007-04-12 09:35:38
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In this age of computers, iPods and all matter of digital wizardry any mention of space travel or a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral would be lucky to make the third or fourth slot on the evening news, let alone make a youngster momentarily glance up from the latest battle taking place on their Playstation.

But back on April 12th 1961, as a boy, I listened intently to the headline news that Russian Yuri Gagarin had become the first human to be sent into space, orbiting just once ‘around the block’ in Vostok 1 for roughly 108 minutes. His capsule’s flight and re-entry being controlled by computer from the ground although his final descent to world renowned fame was by parachute into Siberia.

Before Gagarin climbed aboard the rocket he declared, “What a beautiful moment this was, how all he had lived for was this moment and that he was glad to meet nature face to face in this unprecedented encounter.” All this and he hadn’t even told his Mum!

The Russians had beaten the Americans into second place in the ‘Space Race’ as the United States didn’t put a man into space until Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital flight 23 days later so Yuri Gagarin did indeed become the first man to see that the Earth was indeed round, was indeed mostly water and was indeed absolutely magnificent.

April 12th has certainly become synonymous with Space Travel as 20 years later the Space Shuttle Columbia made its maiden voyage as the Americans announced to the Russians ‘ours is better than yours because its recyclable’. Columbia was the indeed the revolutionary answer to those ‘non believers’ carrying out 27 successful missions until that horrendous day in 2003 when the shuttle disintegrated during re-entry over Texas killing all seven crew members.

Following the successful early missions, the fleet was expanded to include Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour carrying out endless scientific experiments of micro biology and the launching of many Space labs and Satellites that now hurtle around our planet.

On a family holiday to Florida we visited the Kennedy Space Centre and it was there that I just realised the enormity of it all. From the early Mercury Rockets through to the Space Shuttles it was a window through my years growing up in the ‘Space Age’. When it took us 15 to 20 minutes to stroll around the outside of the Apollo Rocket and compare the miniscule size of the capsule to the amount of fuel the astronauts are precariously perched upon it made you realise their bravery and the adrenaline rush they must get on lift-off.

I consider myself lucky to have grown up in the 1960s and to have experienced the era of the ‘Space Race’ which was an exciting period in which to live, even as a child you could not help to be aware of the fierce competition between the Americans and the Russians.

Accompanying those days were the toy rockets, tales of Dan Dare and, of course, the legendary Fireball XL-5 piloted by the heroic Steve Zodiac. Then as a teenager being awestruck of the views of ‘Planet Earth’ being beamed down from Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968 and finally to July 1969 when the Eagle had landed and a chap called Armstrong took ‘One Small Step’ for somebody called 'Mankind'.


   
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by2007-04-13 01:46:10
I believe Yuri Gagarin was a Ukrainian not a Russian.


Asa2007-04-13 08:01:35
I wish I could have experienced the excitement first-hand...oh well. I'll have to stick with my iPod.

PS Yuri Gagarin was born in Klushino near Gzhatsk, a region west of Moscow, Russia, on 9 March 1934.


Sand2007-04-13 10:41:05
The Mercury group were quite a bunch but the fact that Chuck Yeager, one of the foremost test pilots of the era never made it into space because he lacked the phony requisite of educational documentation is one of the many mean minded decisions of the era.


Sand2007-04-15 21:02:26
Oh yes!It was:
"One small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind"


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