Tomorrow's Yuri Gagarin day; his famous line is usually rendered in English as "Let's Go!" but all you have to do is look at contemporary photographs to see a fellow not terribly different from the Mercury Seven: physically fit, able to tolerate discomfort without griping and eager to do the thing.
Countdown, with its halts and instructions to check this and readjust that, was no different for him than any American astronaut (maybe worse-- he had to reseat the hatch!) and I can easily imagine any pilot cheering his spacecraft on as the appointed moment arrived.
The Russians were first in space thanks to a clever, dangerous re-entry procedure: Gagarin bailed out at a high altitude; while his capsule thudded down (and picked up quite a dent), he drifted to Earth under a parachute. While this isn't quite by FAI rules (pilot's supposed to take off and land in the same vehicle), I've always thought it made the achievement even more impressive. (It appears that this was SOP for every Vostok flight).
50 years ago tomorrow, the human race slipped out of this planet's atmosphere for the first time. The space race that ensued managed not only to push us out to the Moon but to give the superpowers a kind of substitute for war.
6 months ago