Fifty-five years ago on 12th April 1961 Yuri Gagarin was launched into the Earth’s orbit and became the first spaceman. Cosmonauts Day in Russia honours Gagarin’s achievement and celebrates all cosmonauts who followed him into the vastness of space.
Gagarin came from very humble beginnings the son of a carpenter and dairymaid. World War II and the German invasion of Russia halted young Yuri’s education. He managed to catch up on his studies after the war and showed a determination to further his knowledge by leaving home. Living with an uncle in Moscow, he enrolled as a 15 year old into a technical high school at Lyubertsy and followed what seems to have been a vocational apprenticeship course (possibly foundation level) in steelworks (foundry man). On completing his two year course he undertook a further four years of study in the same field, and graduated in 1955 aged 21 a fully qualified steel cast-moulder.
Yuri had apparently hoped to be a gymnast and was given the opportunity of following his dream, but decided to complete his four year foundry course instead of attending physical training school. Had he not turned his back on his sporting dream, history would have been very different. For it was during his time at the Saratov Industrial Technical School that Yuri joined the Aero Club. His obvious natural abilities were recognised in the flying club and Yuri was justly rewarded with a recommendation for the Orenburg Military Aviation School. This led him into the Soviet Air-Force in 1956 and being picked for specialist cosmonaut training in 1959 (undoubtedly helped by his small stature of 5ft 2in or 1.57m).
The Soviets used space dogs initially to test the effects of space travel on living organisms, and the successful return of Belka and Strelka after an orbital flight of over 24 hours in August 1960 paved the way for Gagarin. The space sickness suffered by Belka on the fourth orbit of her mission most probably influenced the Soviets decision that man would initially do only one orbit of the Earth. A final orbital flight on 25th March 1961 with the dog Little Star and a mannequin (Ivan Ivanovich) successfully tested the ejector seat system Gagarin would use.
In the early hours of April 12th 1961 the Vostok spacecraft was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome with 27 year old Yuri Gagarin on board. His total flight time of 108 minutes included around 89 minutes in orbit where the speed reached in the region of 27,400 km per hour. Travelling some 327km above the earth Gagarin truly had a heavenly view of our planet and the stars, but all too soon the automated flight systems brought him back, to instant worldwide acclaim. Sadly, on March 27th 1968 just short of the seventh anniversary of this amazing achievement, the Soviets made the announcement of the untimely death of Yuri Gagarin in a training accident aged 34. His ashes are buried in the walls of the Kremlin where he is honoured to this day for his launch into immortality.
The Americans followed Yuri’s epic trip a few weeks later on May 5th, when Alan Shepherd aboard Freedom 7 completed the first-US manned SUB-orbital flight, duration fifteen minutes. Interestingly his mission had originally been scheduled for April, but NASA delayed it to complete more tests on the rocket. Had they been less cautious an American could have been the first human to technically enter outer-space? But Yuri’s pioneering travel ensured that the USA in the early days of the “space-race” was always playing catch-up.
You can listen to my hospital radio space themed tribute to Yuri Gagarin here:
How do you travel for ten days (with a week holiday in Greece involved) and use only hand luggage? With some thought it is possible, and here is how I managed to avoid the check-in nightmare.
Begin travel wearing newly laundered clothing that you know is loose fitting, comfortable, robust and STILL looks good after wearing for two/three days. By using the same outfit for travel I avoided upsetting my tightly packed bag until arrival at my destination, having packed my daily essential items in my hand bag. If necessary larger travel clothing items can be cleaned at your destination and smaller items hand washed.
CRITICAL ITEM: Vacu-pack Storage Bags. These MUST be the type that DOES NOT require vacuum cleaners to suck the air out, and has to be small enough to fit inside your petite sized luggage. I used two bigger/one smaller sized vacupack and either lay on top of them, or sat on them to draw the air out before sealing. I found these are brilliant at reducing your clothing footprint, and offer excellent protection from moisture etc.
A small rugged multi-pocket FLEXIBLE sided bag that conforms to the “hand-luggage” airline regulations. My bag easily fitted the height/length restrictions but was a little portly in width and sat on top of the sizer unit at the airport. I didn’t want to push my bag inside for fear of not getting it back out again, but airport staff said it was fine.
My handbag was wide enough to take my husband’s size 11 sandals stored in a drawstring bag and this proved useful as a beach bag later. I kept my passport/house keys and mobile phone in a small crossover “city holder” that is marketed as having a “slash-proof” strap.
Travel washing line/Universal Sink Plug/Travel wash detergent as it was necessary to wash out underwear, socks etc for a few days, because packing enough of them for ten days was impossible.
Mosiguard bands/Mosi-Plug/Solid Insect Repellent Inserts in an attempt to prevent mosquito bites. The solid inserts were the size of a memory card that slotted into a special plug that emitted bug repellent vapours through heating. We replaced these each night and the only time I was bitten was when our two hotel plugs were being used to charge our electrical gadgets. I also found the wrist/ankle bands very effective during the day and night, although I wore them slightly longer than the four days recommended before changing. This coincided with the same evening we didn’t use the mosi-plug, so little wonder I got bitten. With the restrictions on liquids carried on airlines the mosi-plug inserts were invaluable as liquid insecticide would probably have been confiscated.
Tilley Sunhat: Excellent sun protection that keeps off the rain off as well.
Prescription Reactor Light Glasses: I can’t see without spectacles and having lenses that reacted to the light conditions was a big help, although I still had room for my regular glasses too. I try and have both pairs with me when I travel in case of an unexpected disaster.
Loofah Hand Mitts: I got these in a Christmas toiletry gift set and they were brilliant because a thorough scrub that removed all trace of suntan lotion was guaranteed. With a restorative buff each day my skin glowed.
Elizabeth Grant Biocollasis Complex Cleansing Mousse: This year I upgraded my face cleansing routine to a “posher” brand but I usually travel using my old skin care products. But I didn’t want to leave this mousse behind because it can remove everything in one go including makeup, although I’m not a makeup wearer. However I knew that I’d be covered in moisturiser and suntan lotion so I decided to decant some cleanser into a small pot (3.3cm diameter, 2.9cm deep including lid). I only used half of the contents using it twice a day because a pea-sized amount is all you need each time.
Sanctuary Spa Night Concentrate: A travel sized tube of night cream that ensured my face had a treat each night. A Christmas stocking filler that proved very useful, although I may take some of my new posh brand stuff next time in another tiny pot.
Vaseline (Cocoa Butter) Tin: Another stocking filler item that proved invaluable and my feet were especially grateful. After a long day trekking around my feet could feel very tired and look a bit hot and angry, but after an infusion of cocoa butter Vaseline each night they felt great in the morning!
Solid Stick Sun Lotion: A brilliant concept and an easy item to carry around to reapply your sun protection without the mess. I know you can buy your sun care products at your destination but I have such a sensitive skin I won’t risk using an unknown brand. I decanted my trusted sun tan lotion into 100ml bottles for travel and used this as my daily sun care foundation. Then whilst on the move I topped up using the solid-stick option, but I reckon these could be enough to use by themselves.
Samsung MV800 Digital Camera: As the camera viewing screen can be folded up to face me I can actually see how any “selfie” photo will look.
Long Scarf: Excellent in providing an extra light layer for cooler weather but also good at keeping the harsh glare of the sun at bay as well. I remember being caught unprepared for hot sunny weather in central Europe during April one year. A scarf wrapped around my arms prevented them being scorched as I enjoyed a city tour bus ride.
Long-Sleeved Light Weight Cardigan: A very smart Quacker Factory purchase from QVC UK that kept its shape and packed into a very small space. It gave an extra layer/acted as an evening jacket.
My handbag contained size 11 sandals for my husband and of course my toiletry bag for easy access at airport security. All contents of the toiletry bag was scrutinised for “regulation conformity” before leaving home. Not much room was left for “entertainment items” but miniaturisation is the key, and I realised my older gadgets would be ideal travel companions.
My first social media friendly mobile phone (top-up/4.5 years old): My old INQ Chat 3G mobile is a fraction of the size of my younger smart phone, and with the top-up facility it was easy to monitor spending. It also has an excellent 3.2 megapixel day/night mode camera facility that and would be a useful backup to my higher spec digital camera. Some of my apps went a little funny after a few years and I was told to send the INQ back for an internal upgrade. I didn’t do this, so my Twitter app no longer works, but I was able to keep an eye on my email, monitor Facebook and do the odd status update/photo post. My husband had his “all-singing” smart phone with him, so I had access to Twitter and could do more complex social media interactions through him. But I don’t use social media that much anyway so didn’t miss much, and my Greek mobile expenditure was £2.40 in total.
My first MP3 player: The important thing here was that my Creative Zen Nano Plus model (around 8 years old) is battery operated (AAA) and the size of a cigarette lighter. I listened to music everyday for at least an hour and I never changed the battery. With so many power hungry gadgets (2 mobiles, digital camera, and backup power charger) it was great to have something with an independent power source. Our hotel had two plugs (husband brought necessary plug adaptors) but the electricity went off when you removed your key from the special holder by the door. So it was impossible to leave your gadgets charging while you were away from the room. If you were out all day you suddenly had four items all needing charged and only two plugs to do the job. I never found any handy plug sockets in the bar/pool areas of the complex we stayed in which would have eased the problem considerably. The MP3 player, headphones and spare batteries were housed in a small metal container.
My first and only Games Console: I have a Nintendo DS Lite console so it is much smaller in size compared to more recent versions. The screen was difficult to see outdoors with reflections obscuring the screen view, but I used it most days indoors and the full charge (before leaving home) lasted the whole trip.
Mini Books: I enjoy reading but had no space for an epic sized blockbuster. Then I remembered having five mini-sized Classic books, 3 from Greek literature so I took them.
My 25 year old leather sandals: The sole is far more basic than the high tech rubberised ones of today, and so packing my wide-fit size fours was a lot easier to do. At the time I got these they were the best I could get, and they still look as good today. In many ways they are more comfortable than my newer more high tech sandals where the heel strap can slip, or the stitching can cause chaffing. My feet can find ANY odd stitch or seam and blister accordingly, so my old trusted minimalistic looking footwear was a dream to wear. I’ve also realised (in the last two years) that my sensitive feet like to have two sets of footwear on them and tire less quickly as a result. So I’m afraid I was the “archetypal Brit abroad” and wore two sets of footsie socks with my sandals. Honestly it wasn’t such a bad look.
By the end of the week I still had two unworn T-shirts in my wardrobe and had managed to wear a different combination of clothing each day. I used one of the fresh tops to travel back in and this gave me enough space to store my souvenir postcards and book memento.