Published April 12, 2011
Wondering what the trip was like for Yuri Gagarin, who became the first man in space exactly 50 years ago? Look no further than YouTube.
On April 12, 1961, the Russian cosmonaut became the first person in space, ushering in the era of human spaceflight. The rocket carrying Gagarin's Vostok 1 spacecraft blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Soviet Union, reaching unprecedented speeds for human travel at the time before it broke free of the Earth's gravitational pull and entered orbit around the planet, circling once before re-entering the atmosphere and landing back on Soviet soil.
And a new movie shot entirely from the International Space Station and released to YouTube seeks to recreate exactly the experience of Gagarin's groundbreaking 108-minute orbit around the planet, combining the historic audio tapes of the event with brand new footage.
The film, shot in collaboration with the European Space Agency and the astronauts onboard the International Space Station, captures the magnificence of Gagarin’s original orbit with breath-taking high-definition views of the Earth from above. It matches the orbital path of the International Space Station as closely as possible to that of Gagarin's original route, allowing viewers to see incredible vistas of the Earth through the Space Station’s new giant cupola window.
“We have woven historic Vostok I mission recordings of Gagarin (subtitled in English) with new shots captured by Paolo Nespoli, and edited them to an original score by composer Philip Sheppard," explained director Chris Riley.
As he edited together the film, Riley made an unusual discovery: Gagarin's short bursts of communication from the cockpit were very much akin to modern Twitter chatter. In addition to being the first man in space, Riley called him the first man on Twitter.
“It’s clear Yuri spoke in 'tweets’ -- as communications to the mission controllers were always brief and to the point," he said. " Today a text-based tweet is composed of up to no more than 140 characters, so in essence Yuri was the first perfect tweeter."
Gagarin's 108-minute mission on April 12, 1961, remains a source of great national pride, and Russia marked the day with fanfare resembling Soviet-era celebrations. Schools had special lessons dedicated to Gagarin, billboards carried his smiling face and national television channels broadcast a flow of movies and documentaries about the flight.
"We were the first to fly to space and have had a great number of achievements, and we mustn't lose our advantage," Medvedev said during a visit to Mission Control outside Moscow.
Gagarin's accomplishment shocked the United States, prompting it to declare the goal of putting a man on the moon.
"Without Yuri Alexeyevich's flight, I wouldn't have flown to the moon," said Thomas Stafford, commander of the Apollo 10 mission that approached within eight miles (13 kilometers) of the moon in May 1969, the last U.S. mission before the U.S. moon landing three months later.
"He was a great hero for the Soviet Union and the entire world," Stafford said in Russian after receiving a medal from Medvedev at a Kremlin award ceremony that honored cosmonauts and astronauts.
Sergei Krikalyov, who holds the world record for total time spent in space -- 803 days on six space missions -- said the main unknown before Gagarin's flight was how a human body would respond to the conditions in outer space.
"The main tasks were to make sure that a cosmonaut could breathe and swallow in zero gravity," Krikalyov, who now heads Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center, told the AP. "It was not even certain that a man could eat and drink during weightlessness."
Gagarin, who later crisscrossed the world as a living symbol of Soviet talent, craved more space trips. Cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov told the AP that Gagarin was dreaming about going to the moon and was among those selected to train for the mission in a race against the U.S. "He hoped to take part in that, he hoped to fly to the moon," Shatalov during an interview at Star City, where Gagarin trained.
Gagarin was a backup for his friend Vladimir Komarov, who died when his space capsule crashed on re-entry in April 1967. Fearing any injuries to their space star, Soviet authorities decided to bar Gagarin from flying into space again.
Gagarin's own death in a training jet crash on March 27, 1968, is shrouded in conspiracy theories to this day. Shatalov, who had planned to follow Gagarin on another training flight that day, told the AP that the most likely reason for Gagarin's crash was a sonic wave from another military jet flying too close.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.