Friday, April 29, 2011

China to send men to moon and Mars

China Moon and Mars
Announced earlier in the week, the station will weigh 60 tons; about one seventh of the mass of today's International Space Station. Unmanned, its first module should be launched later this year, and then hooked up to two following manned modules. Participating in the briefing, astronaut Yang Liwei admitted the Center's engineers were finding the development of sophisticated docking technology, needed to create the country's first multi-module spaceship, to be a challenge.

"In 2003 China became the third nation to put a man into space. The first Chinese space walk followed five years later in 2008."

Looking ahead, China wants to put a man on the moon by 2025 and then send a man to Mars before the year 2060. Of course the dream does not end there.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fill 'er up at an interstellar gas station

Gas Station
A spaceship isn't much use if it doesn't have the juice to go somewhere. And if you're an astronaut bouncing around destinations like the moon, random asteroids, Lagrange points, and Mars, you'll probably need an interstellar gas station.

NASA has launched an "In-Space Cryogenic Propellant Storage and Transfer Demonstration Mission Concept (PDF)" study, which is essentially a call for scientific institutions around the globe to help create a space gas station. Those wishing to build a fueling stop in the sky have until May 23 to submit their proposals.

Cryogenic propellants used in rocket engines are usually made of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Both liquids reside in enormous insulated containers and are pumped through an expansion chamber, then mixed and ignited in the combustion chamber. The result is an incredible amount of power per gallon of cryogenic proellant, up to 40 percent higher than other rocket fuels.

However, there are many challenges to creating a gas station in the stars. The primary objectives of the study are to address key elements including a fail-safe way to transfer the propellants from a storage container to a ship. The difficulty is high since hydrogen tends to leak (it's the smallest element), and can eventually deteriorate the container it's stored in.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What China's New Space Station Means For The World

China's new space station
China is launching its very own space station. Countries have achieved such a feat absent international cooperation only twice before--Russia's Salyut, in 1971, and the United States' Skylab, in 1973. After successful manned space flights and a robotic lunar lander, a space station would be a potent political symbol in an era when the U.S. has no means to get astronauts into space other than paying the Russians.

Because its space program is a subsidiary of the People's Liberation Army, some have concluded that China's designs on space are military, but thoughtful observers disagree: the association between the country's space exploration program and the PLA is about the past, not the future. Chinese lasers won't be raining down on us from space any time soon. The future of China's space program is not about weapons, it's about putting a Chinese man on the moon.

The thing about China--a nation led by engineers--is that through the vehicle of its 5-year plans, its government methodically pursues its stated goals. It's happened before in microchips, leading the Chinese government to develop a home-grown processor that may some day challenge Intel. And it's happening in space.

Human space exploration requires mastery of a succession of tasks: getting a human home from space safely. Spacewalks. Docking in orbit. Living in space for extended periods. The Chinese space program has accomplished all of these goals except the last; the space station completes the country's maturation as the world's current leading space power. The step beyond this program program would be the most public and visible demonstration imaginable of the country's ascendancy: it would mean reproducing the United States' most singular moment of scientific and military triumph, a boot-print on lunar soil.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

NASA’s Human Spaceflight Dying & Only Mars Can Save It

The greatest adventure in human history is ending in its infancy. NASA’s human spaceflight program, a signature achievement of American civilization, is dying. NASA succeeded, landing Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin on the lunar surface only 98 months after Kennedy inspired the nation with his vision.

The program was conceived during the bleak days following Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, and then was energized by President John F. Kennedy’s proposal in 1961 to put astronauts on the Moon by decade’s end.

If you grew up during that decade (as I did) and heard the bold rhetoric about new frontiers and carrying freedom’s message into the cosmos, you couldn’t help but be moved. America had a sense of mission back then that is largely missing from political discourse today, and the human spaceflight program epitomized the hopes of a new generation for the future.

It is unsettling to see how our confidence has shriveled during the intervening years, both at NASA and in the broader political culture. At NASA, the Space Shuttle program is about to shut down and the Constellation program conceived to replace it with manned missions to the Moon and Mars has been canceled by the Obama Administration.

What remains of the human spaceflight program looks unlikely to survive an era of budget cutting and cultural pessimism.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Will humans make it to the moon and Mars in 10 years?

moon and mars base
In just the past week, Congress has introduced a bill directing NASA to put a manned base on the moon by 2022, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said that he'll be sending humans to Mars in a little as 10 years. But can it happen, and do we even want it to?

The "Reasserting American Leadership in Space Act" would tell NASA to "develop a sustained human presence on the moon in order to promote exploration, commerce, science and United States preeminence in space as a stepping stone for the future exploration of Mars and other destinations," all by 2022. That sounds good in theory, but the bill basically just says, "Hey, go do this," without recognizing that it may be both a technologically and fiscally impossible task for NASA to accomplish within that time frame.

Private industry is rapidly catching up to NASA. In the next ten years especially, the space agency seems likely to get eclipsed after the impending retirement of the space shuttle. SpaceX might have the credentials to back up its space exploration plans, which would put humans on Mars in a decade if everything goes well. That's a big if, though, since SpaceX still has a lot of work to do to get its Falcon heavy-lift rocket operational by 2012.

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Shooting for the moon amid cuts

For all the rhetoric about cutting government spending, NASA’s space mission remains sacred in Congress.

A handful of powerful lawmakers are so eager to see an American on the moon — or even Mars — that they effectively mandated NASA to spend “not less than” $3 billion for a new rocket project and space capsule in the 2011 budget bill signed by the president last week.
NASA has repeatedly raised concerns about the timeframe for building a smaller rocket — but the new law expresses Congress’s will for the space agency to make a massive “heavy-lift” rocket that can haul 130 metric tons, like the ones from the days of the Apollo.

Congressional approval of the plan — all while $38 billion is being cut elsewhere in the federal government — reflects not only the power of key lawmakers from NASA-friendly states, but the enduring influence of major contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing in those states.

For instance, a series of stop-gap spending laws had kept money flowing to the man-to-moon Constellation program because Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) initially tucked a provision into a 2010 budget bill — even though President Barack Obama and Congress agreed last fall to end that Bush-era initiative. An internal NASA audit pegged the cost of that move at $215 million over five months.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Possible Small Step Toward Mars Landing: A Martian Moon

This picture of Phobos shows two possible landing sites for the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission. The oval in red marks a spot that was previously being considered, while the blue oval denotes the currently favored landing site.
This picture of Phobos shows two possible landing sites for the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission. The oval in red marks a spot that was previously being considered, while the blue oval denotes the currently favored landing site.

The two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, are in the sights of planners of both human and robotic spaceflights.

Last year NASA began targeting a mission to Mars, as decreed by President Barack Obama. "By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it," he said in April 2010 during an address at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In response, one idea now percolating within the space engineering community has been scripted by Lockheed Martin Space Systems. The company near Denver has taken a longing look at its own Orion spacecraft under development and missions beyond low-Earth orbit. A result is a proposed mission called Project Red Rocks to explore the outermost moon of Mars, Deimos, as the penultimate step toward setting human foot on the Red Planet.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why Is It So Hard to Travel to Mars?

The Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters were perhaps two of the most prominent reminders of how crucial it is that everything work just right for a spacecraft to travel to space and successfully return back to Earth.

Whether it was the failure of the seal used to stop hot gases from seeping through, or a piece of foam insulation that damaged the thermal protection system, scientists and engineers must make thousands of predictions of all the things that could go wrong during flight.

NASA's human Mars mission presents even more challenges of sending humans safely to a farther distance and to a more dangerous environment. Designing an aircraft that can safely enter and exit Mars' unpredictable atmosphere is a big challenge.

"Each time we fly to Mars, we learn a little more and get a little smarter," said Walter Engelund of NASA's Langley Research Center. "One thing we have learned is that the Mars atmosphere is certainly a big variable. It is much more dynamic than our own Earth's atmosphere."

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Yuri Gagarin From the Earth to Mars Tribute

Yuri Gagarin
50 Years ago, the dream of human spaceflight opened with the courageous blastoff of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin inside the Vostok 1 spacecraft on April 12, 1961. Gagarin was the first person to orbit the Earth. Less than a month later on May 5. 1961, Astronaut Alan Shepard bravely set forth on America’s first human spaceflight – Freedom 7.

Barely three weeks afterward on May 25, 1961, these momentous events of the early Space Age led directly to Project Apollo and the historic announcement by President Kennedy that the United States “would land a man on the moon” by the end of the 1960’s.

In honor of Yuri Gagarin, NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover explored a small and highly eroded crater dubbed “Vostok Crater” in 2005 during its journey in the Meridian Planum region on the Martian surface. Along the edge of the crater, researchers commanded Opportunity to use the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT), to drill into a rock dubbed “Gagarin” on Sols 401 and 402 in March 2005.

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North-East firms helped Nasa shoot for the moon

Yuri Gagarin became one of the most famous men on the planet when he orbited the Earth in Vostok 1, on April 12, 1961. Just over a month later, US President John F Kennedy, determined to regain the initiative for his country, told Congress: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

Unbeknown at that time, foundations had been laid in the North-East to play a significant role in that adventure.

Some 35 years earlier, a young apprentice, Francis Thomas Bacon, had joined one of the North-East's largest employers, steam turbine builder CA Parsons, in Newcastle.

While at the firm, where he worked from 1925 to 1940, he became interested in the potential of fuel cells, devices using hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, for pollution-free power.

As its commercial value wasn't then recognised, he initially began carrying out experiments at the firm in secret, unaware that his work was to play an integral part in putting Apollo 11 and US astronaut Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Russia's President Announces Plan for Moon Base

Moon Base
This week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most significant milestones in the “Space Race” between the United States and the Soviet Union, and it comes at a time when Russia once again hopes to sprint head of any rival space program.
On April 12, 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human being to enter space and orbit the Earth. (Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight a few weeks later marked the first flight of an American in space.) The 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight is a reminder that at several occasions during the early years of the “Space Race,” the Soviets were in the lead; for example, in addition to the milestone of launching the first man into space, the U.S.S.R. also launched the first satellite — Sputnik 1 — on October 4, 1957 and the first space station in April, 1971, and one of its astronauts conducted the first space walk on March 18, 1965.

After the arrival of Apollo 11 on the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, many of the earlier Soviet successes were forgotten. Gagarin had died the previous year, when his MiG 15 training jet crashed. In the general concensus, America had “won” the space race.

Now, as Russia marks the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s historic flight, there may be grounds for reevaluating that assessment. President Obama has fundamentally altered the role of NASA in the future of manned space flight, even as private companies are independently developing launch vehicles that could serve a wide variety of private or public missions. (In fact, SpaceX recently announced it plans to build the large booster since the Apollo program’s Saturn V.)

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Students to Design Rovers with NASA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the selection of 80 students from 28 community colleges across the United States and Puerto Rico to participate in the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program. In a press release from NASA on April 7, 2011, the agency unveiled details about the program which is intended to encourage students to pursue careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines.

The students were selected based on participation and completed assignments in an on-line program which was conducted during the school year. The chosen students will participate in the program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on April 27-29 or at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on May 12-14 this year.

The students will be separated into teams as hypothetical companies pursuing the exploration of Mars. The students will experience many of the challenges and use methods employed by actual scientists and engineers of the agency. The students will also be responsible for developing the company infrastructure as well as designing and creating a prototype rover for use on the planet

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Earthlings, let's now tap Moon & Mars

Rakesh Sharma, India's first cosmonaut, remembers his time in space and his training in Russia on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's maiden space voyage.
Half a century ago, the 27-year-old Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin created history by becoming the first man to journey into space. As Russia and the world celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first manned space-flight by Gagarin, it’s important to remember that it was not only a giant leap for mankind, but also marked an all-time high for the Soviet patriotic pride in the Cold War period. In essence, April 12 was not only the day when mankind achieved what was previously thought impossible, but also the culmination of decades of Soviet space research that had already launched the first satellite in October 1957, the first animal to orbit the Earth (Laika, the dog) in November 1957, and numerous other milestone flights and satellites.

Gagarin’s flight was, importantly, one of the biggest ‘victories’ for the Soviet Union in the Cold War Soviet-U.S. Space Race – a fierce contest for supremacy in outer space exploration. In other words, this was a battle of giant egos and both countries burned millions of dollars in research to be the first to conquer some tiny part of the final frontier.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

50 years after Yuri, India still on its slow climb

Rakesh Sharma
At a time when the world is set to raise a toast to Yuri Gagarin on the 50th anniversary of his trail-blazing flight into space, Indian cosmonaut Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma has one lament: a holdup in the indigenous human spaceflight programme.

The cosmonaut, is disappointed with what he described as a “cooling off” of the programme after its launch in 2007. “The reverses must be addressed and the rocket should be man-rated (certified safe for humans) by Isro,” he told Deccan Chronicle.

His disappointment with the slow progress of the programme comes at a time when China is stepping up its space missions with an orbiting space lab, to be launched later this year. Weighing nearly 19,000 lbs, the unmanned Tiangong 1 module will be launched aboard a Long March 2F rocket from Jiuquan space centre in the Gobi desert.

As space buffs across the world celebrate the 50th year of Yuri Gagarin's trail-blazing flight into space, scientists and cosmonauts are set to chant the icon’s call “Poyekhali,” or “here we go” and advance from an era of voyages of discovery, to voyages of profit.

Their ambitions are soaring beyond the Moon and Mars — not merely for science, symbolism and glamour — but for the benefit of humankind. Energy from space, efficient methods of identification and management of water resources, and fail-safe security systems for every nation, will be within reach. For once, sci-fi writers could be proved right, albeit through a joint effort, circa 2030.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Soviet feat in 1961 started race to moon

STAR CITY, Russia - It was the Soviet Union's own giant leap for mankind, one that would spur a humiliated America to race for the moon. It happened 50 years ago Tuesday, when an air force pilot named Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.

The 27-year-old cosmonaut's mission lasted just 108 minutes and was fraught with drama: a break in data transmission, glitches involving antennas, a retrorocket and the separation of modules. And there was an overarching question that science had yet to answer: What would weightlessness do to a human being?

"There were all kinds of wild fears that a man could lose his mind in zero gravity, lose his ability to make rational decisions," recalls Oleg Ivanovsky, who oversaw the construction and launch of the Vostok spacecraft that carried Gagarin.

The flight went off safely, and the handsome Russian with the big smile became a poster boy for the communist world, still a national idol 43 years after his death in a jet training accident, and remembered with affection by the last surviving pioneers of the Soviet space program.

From chief designer Sergei Korolyov to young nurses and rank-and-file launch pad workers, "people loved, really loved him," Ivanovsky said in a telephone interview.

Gagarin's rocket lifted off as scheduled on April 12, 1961, at 9:07 a.m. Moscow time.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Volcanoes Reveal the Cooling of Mars

The mantle of Mars is possibly cooling by 30-40°C every billion years. Based on satellite observations of the composition of the planet's volcanic rocks, researchers from CNRS and the Universit√© Paul Sabatier in Toulouse reached this conclusion after reconstructing for the first time the thermal evolution of the planet over the past 4 billion years. These values indicate that cooling is slower than on Earth and highlight the specific nature of our planet, where thermal evolution is affected by plate tectonics. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature.

The history of water and of climate evolution on Mars has received considerable attention over the past few decades. However, the evolution of a planet needs to be considered in its entirety. This requires an understanding of the thermal and dynamic evolution of the planetary interior in relation to volcanic or tectonic activity.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

How NASA will land a rover on Mars

NASA has produced an animated video explaining how it will send the 'Curiosity' rover to Mars. The five-minute clip shows a NASA spacecraft falling through the atmosphere of the Red Planet, and a floating crane depositing the 3-meter rover onto Mars' rocky surface. (See it for yourself below.) The video is meant to reflect the "dynamic, violent nature of landing on another planet," says Doug Ellison, a member of the animation team. Curiosity is expected to touch down on Mars in August 2012. It will take samples and atmospheric readings from the Martian soil, and attempt to answer the question: Is there life on Mars?

Huge Private Rocket Could Send Astronauts to the Moon or Mars

A massive new private rocket envisioned by the commercial spaceflight company SpaceX could do more than just ferry big satellites and spacecraft into orbit. It could even help return astronauts to the moon, the rocket's builder says.

SpaceX announced plans to build the huge rocket, called the Falcon Heavy, yesterday (April 5). To make the new booster, SpaceX will upgrade its Falcon 9 rockets with twin strap-on boosters and other systems to make them capable of launching larger payloads into space than any other rocket operating today.

But the Falcon Heavy's increased power could also be put toward traveling beyond low-Earth orbit and out into the solar system, said SpaceX's founder and CEO Elon Musk during a Tuesday press conference
"It certainly opens up a wide range of possibilities, such as returning to the moon and conceivably going to Mars," Musk said.

Traveling that far requires more lift than most rockets flying today, including NASA's space shuttle. But the Falcon Heavy, which is designed to generate 3.8 million pounds (1,700 metric tons) of thrust, would be able to do the job, Musk said.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Marvelous views of Saturn

When Saturn reaches astronomical opposition, we’ll be treated to some marvelous views of the ringed and gaseous planet as it stands opposite the sun, from Earth’s perspective. In other words, when Saturn ascends the eastern sky at dusk, the sun will be setting in the west.
Think about this concept: When the moon is full from Earth’s perspective, the moon is opposite the sun. On the evening of a full moon, the lunar orb rises in the east at dusk while the sun sets in the west. It’s the same for Saturn and the sun.

With clear skies at night, Saturn loiters in the constellation Virgo at sundown, near the star Spica. This planet becomes a beacon to find at zero magnitude, which is bright enough to see from urban, light-polluted locations. Through April, it generally remains visible all night long.

Saturn gets a cosmic weekend guest, as the waxing moon approaches it April 16. Find the official full moon April 17, when it becomes this celestial body’s turn to sit opposite the sun.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

Hot then cold, ready for your close up, Mr Mercury

He's really hot, really cold, maybe even a bit icy. He is the planet Mercury and this month he is ready for his extended close-up.

On Wednesday, NASA showed the first pictures taken by its Mercury Messenger spacecraft, which entered the planet's orbit on March 17.

Messenger will spend at least a year photographing, measuring and studying Mercury, which for now is the last frontier of planetary exploration.
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''This is the last of the classical planets, the planets known to the astronomers of Egypt and Greece and Rome and the Far East,'' the principal investigator, Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said.

It ''captivated the imagination and the attention of astronomers for millennia'', Dr Solomon said, but science had never had such a front-row seat. ''We're there now.''

The space agency has sent orbiters to five planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - but it probably will take a decade or two before a spacecraft orbits Uranus or Neptune. (In 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will zoom past Pluto - which is no longer regarded as a planet.)

Half a dozen fly-bys by NASA probes - three by Mariner 10 in the 1970s and three by Messenger in the past three years - have seen Mercury close up, though briefly.

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Friday, April 01, 2011

NASA Airborne Radar Set to Image Hawaiian Volcano

The Kilauea volcano that recently erupted on the Big Island of Hawaii will be the target for a NASA study to help scientists better understand processes occurring under Earth's surface. A NASA Gulfstream-III aircraft equipped with a synthetic aperture radar developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is scheduled to depart Sunday, April 3, from the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., to the Big Island for a nine-day mission.

The Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, or UAVSAR, uses a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar that sends pulses of microwave energy from the aircraft to the ground to detect and measure very subtle deformations in Earth's surface, such as those caused by earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and glacier movements. As the Gulfstream-III flies at an altitude of about 12,500 meters (41,000 feet), the radar, located in a pod under the aircraft's belly, will collect data over Kilauea. The UAVSAR's first data acquisitions over this volcanic region took place in January 2010, when the radar flew over the volcano daily for a week. The UAVSAR detected deflation of Kilauea's caldera over one day, part of a series of deflation-inflation events observed at Kilauea as magma is pumped into the volcano's east rift zone.

The astronauts of planet Earth

In the 50 years since Yuri Gagarin first soared into space, 520 men and women have taken their own space odysseys. They have come from 38 countries, carried on American, Russian and, recently, Chinese vehicles. All have been proud to represent their nations. Now, in a special issue honouring their achievements, FT Weekend Magazine has interviewed an astronaut from 35 of these countries. The project involved 17 writers, 11 languages and a rather flustered mission control – but it resulted in stories as diverse and entertaining as the voyagers themselves. May we present … the astronauts of Planet Earth.

The human history of space began on the morning of April 12 1961. After a breakfast of meat paste and marmalade, squeezed from a tube, a 27-year-old lieutenant in the Soviet air force, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, was helped into a bulky orange flying suit. With his back-up, Gherman Titov, he was driven in a bus to a launch pad on the desolate Tyuratam missile-testing site on the steppes of Kazakhstan. According to Soviet lore, Gagarin then gave a short speech to the crowd of engineers, scientists and mechanics gathered in the early morning sunshine. “Dear friends,” he began. “What can I tell you in these last minutes before the launch? My whole life appears to me as one beautiful moment. All that I previously lived through and did, was lived through and done for the sake of this moment.”

Those words, written for Gagarin, had actually been recorded in Moscow. On the morning of his flight, he simply said goodbye, clanked helmets awkwardly with Titov, and was then taken up and strapped into a small spherical pod attached to a 300-tonne rocket that had been designed to carry nuclear weapons. For the next two hours, as the scientists fussed and took tranquilliser pills, Gagarin became slightly bored and asked for some music to be piped in. He said the first, true human words of a cosmonaut as his Vostok “satellite-ship” began to rise from the earth at 9.06.59am, his heart beating almost three times a second: “Let’s go!”

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