Tereshkova and Gagarin: Similarities Between the First Man and Woman in Space

Valentina Tereshkova in 1970. Credit: Ria Novosti

Valentina Tereshkova in 1970. Credit: Ria Novosti

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of women in space: on June 16, 1963, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova launched into orbit as the pilot Vostok 6. Since her historic flight, Tereshkova has appropriately been a supporter of women’s right and women in science. But to regard her mission as a great early coup for women’s rights – which many are wont to do – is to take it out of context. As is usually the case, it’s important to look at the events surrounding a mission to gain a full perspective. My latest article at Al Jazeera English gives a more detailed look at Tereshkova’s selection, and my latest at Discovery News gives a brief overview of her flight. But before reading either article, it’s worth taking a minute to read a little about Yuri Gagarin’s background. The first man and first woman in space have a lot more in common than nationality and spacecraft. [Read more...]

The Real Story Behind Yuri Gagarin’s Death

Two guards stand by Gagarin’s grave, right, and Vladimir Seryogin’s who was in the same plane. Credit: RIA Novosti

After he returned from his Vostok 1 flight, the Soviet government kept Yuri Gagarin busy touring the world and kept him out of the flight rotation. He was a national treasure who couldn’t be injured or killed on a mission. So when the cosmonaut died in a plane crash on March 27, 1968, it seemed unthinkable. In the years since the accident, his death has remained shrouded in mystery with rumoured causes ranging from political sabotage to alcoholism. Finally, after nearly 50 years, the report on Gagarin’s death has been released. And former cosmonaut Alexei Leonov has been given a ‘go’ to talk about how his friend and former colleague died. The full article is over on Discovery News.

The U-2 With Fictitious NASA Markings

A stunning picture of the U-2 with fictitious NASA markings. Presumably sometime in mid-1960. Credit: via cloudsovercuba.com

A stunning picture of the U-2 with fictitious NASA markings. Presumably sometime in mid-1960. It’s worth clicking on this one to see it full resolution. Credit: via cloudsovercuba.com

Researching the U-2 spy plane the other day, I came across this stunning picture of the aircraft in silhouette. For the first time I noticed a yellow NASA stripe and an ID number – 55741 – on the tail, the same markings the agency put on the X-15’s tail when it assumed control of that program in 1958. Idly interested in NASA’s history with the U-2, I searched for records of the aircraft by its ID number. Turns out, these NASA markings were put on the aircraft entirely for show.   [Read more...]

The Soviets’ and Americans’ Approach to Spaceflight

Sputnik 1 expanded: the little satellite that started a big run of firsts for the Soviet Union in space. Credit: NASA

I’ve written a fair bit recently about what Obama’s second term in office might do to help the nation move forward in space. On the surface, Obama’s reelection means his space agenda will remain intact – we should theoretically see NASA return to the Moon and send crews to an asteroid and Mars with the agency’s Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket. But whether or not we’ll see this grand plan come to fruition is another matter. SLS and Orion are costly programs still far from flight ready making them targets for budget cuts. But there’s another factor at play. Obama, like presidents before him, has set audacious and long-term goals that risk losing momentum. [Read more...]