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Gherman Titov, the first man who lived in space

Anatoly Zak, Spaceflight Correspondent
Mar 7, 2015, 18:48 UTC

Sen—Less than four months after the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in April 1961, the USSR proved that the historic mission was not just a stunt and that the nation had really intended to explore space.

On Aug. 6, a second cosmonaut, Gherman Titov, entered orbit aboard the Vostok-2 spacecraft. Stunningly, after Gagarin's single orbit around the Earth, Vostok-2 traveled in space for more than a day, making 18 revolutions around our planet and giving its pilot plenty of time to work, play and even sleep in space. Titov's mission proved that a human could really survive in weightlessness long enough to do meaningful work and return home safely. Titov's achievement is underscored by the fact that a day-long flight was the ultimate goal of NASA's Mercury project, which would achieve the same mission duration two years later, after five shorter flights.

Titov was born on Sept. 11, 1935, in the town of Verkhneye in the mountainous Altai Region in Southern Russia. Like other members of the first cosmonaut group, Titov was a military pilot before his selection for a secret space flight training program on Mar. 7, 1960. During his Air Force career, Titov flew the famous Soviet fighter jet, MiG-15.

In the run up to the first Vostok mission, Titov served as Gagarin's backup. Naturally, after the triumphant return of his peer back to Earth, Titov received a new assignment in May to pilot the Vostok-2. At the time, behind the wall of secrecy, Soviet space officials hotly debated Titov's flight program. Most space medicine doctors and Air Force training officers argued for a three-orbit mission, enabling Vostok-2 to land in the USSR. The next opportunity to return the descent module in safe areas of the country would only come after 17 orbits, requiring to commit to a day-long flight—way too dangerous in the eyes of cautious specialists. However, the powerful head of the Soviet space program Sergei Korolev overruled all his colleagues and told Titov to prepare for a day-long mission.

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A historical globe shows ground track of 18 orbits completed by Gherman Titov aboard Vostok-2 in August 1961. Image Credit: Anatoly Zak /RussianSpaceWeb.com

Vostok-2 lifted off just seconds before 9 a.m. Moscow Time and entered orbit flawlessly a few minutes later. After overcoming some discomfort and completing key flight tasks, which included an exercise with orienting the spacecraft in orbit using manual controls and filming of the Earth's surface, Titov was supposed to sleep from 6:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. next day. Before going to bed, he also used an onboard toilet—another first in space, but not advertised at the time. As passengers on airplanes often experience today, Titov had some trouble falling asleep, but in the end overslept a scheduled wakeup time. Ground controllers seeing good telemetry from orbit, gave him some extra time.

On the morning of August 7, Vostok-2 initiated an automated deorbiting sequence, however after the service module separated from Titov's capsule, an umbilical cable between the two sections failed to cut until the searing heat of reentry melted the wires. Not surprisingly, Titov experienced a chaotic rollercoaster in the interim.

Like all Vostok cosmonauts, Titov ejected from his capsule during its descent through the atmosphere and completed the landing under his own parachute, or rather two, because a spare one deployed again unexpectedly, as it had done during Gagarin's landing. After some struggle to keep the two canopies apart, Titov landed successfully just a few meters from a railway line and seconds after a passing train!

From liftoff to landing, the 18-orbit mission of the Vostok-2 spacecraft lasted 25 hours 18 minutes.