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by Boris FOMKIN, Academic Secretary of the Academic Council, Zhukovsky and Gagarin Air Force Academy, Moscow, Russia

Our compatriots-Nikolai Zhukovsky, the founder of present-day aerodynamics, as well as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Sergei Korolev, the progenitors of theoretical and practical cosmonautics-have ushered in the space age, with our fellow citizen Yuri Gagarin its human trailblazer in the flesh.

The competition was really tough as prospective cosmonauts were being picked from among Air Force fighter pilots not older than 35. Their selection began in 1959. All in all, as many as 3,461 were able to qualify. But only twenty got through. Of these, twelve came to be enrolled in our Academy subsequently. All told as many as 30 spacemen have linked their life with our Academy. Like Vladimir Kovalenok, twice Hero of the Soviet Union, who has three space flights to his credit. For ten years he had been the Academy's head.

Yuri Gagarin was in the first group of candidate spacemen*. But in fact he had his initiation earlier than that as,

See: A. Orlov, "He Opened Window Into Space", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2004.--Ed.

Korolev greeting Gagarin.

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taking a course in the Saratov Industrial School in 1950 to 1955, he joined a club of physics fans. Once, getting well ready, he made a report about Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and his disquisitions*. The young air pilot fell for the cosmos. In his book The Road into Outer Space (1961) Gagarin shared his impressions of Tsiolkovsky and his works. "This was stronger than Jules Verne, Herbert Wells or other scifi fantasy-mongers... Tsiolkovsky wrote the age of jet aircraft would succeed the age of piston-engined planes. And they came, the jets, flying in the skies... He wrote about rockets, and they came as well, plowing the stratosphere. What this man of genius predicted has come true. His dream of man's flight into outer space expanses was bound to come true, too. I ended my report with these words of Tsiolkovsky, 'Humankind shall not remain on earth forev-

See: Ye. Kuzin, "Prophet of Cosmonautics, Citizen of the Universe", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2007.--Ed.

er but, in a race for light and space, it shall first venture beyond the atmosphere and then conquer the entire circumsolar space for itself.'"

And so it came to pass. April 12, 1961. Early in the morning, at 06 h 7 min, a piloted spacecraft, Vostok-1, took off from the Baikonur spacedrome (today the Republic of Kazakhstan). It carried the first man who overcame the force of terrestrial gravitation. It was all over at 7 h 55 min: the first orbital flight was competed with much success. Just one spin, one goaround of the earth!.. In August of the same year of 1961, another cosmonaut, German Titov, made as many as seventeen circuits around the globe on board the Vostok-2 spacecraft. At this point Sergei Korolev*, the designer of these spaceships, said our spacemen--both have-beens and would-bes--had to

See: N. Koroleva, "His Name and Cosmos Are Inseparable", Science in Russia, No. 1. 2007.--Ed.

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upgrade their skills, for what they had learned at flying schools could not suffice any longer. They should get an engineering qualification, he maintained. Said he about Gagarin, "Yuri was a happy combination of natural courage, analytical mind and industry. If he gets a reliable education, I think we shall hear his name among the most resounding names of our scientists."

Korolev certainly meant our school, our Academy*, that he respected so much, and where he was so eager to get in. Back in 1924 Korolev and his parents were received by Alexander Vegener, the Academy's chief, who thought highly of the young man's accomplishments both at school and in designing flying machines. Yet in those years

See: B. Fomkin, "Air Force Science and Education Center", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2011.--Ed.

secondary school graduates could not qualify for admission to military colleges. Thanks to Vegener's intercession with top commanders, this issue was settled--thumbs up for the gifted youth! But by that time Korolev had been enrolled in the aviation department of the Kiev Polytechnic, and the Korolevs, resident in Odessa then, insisted he had better take a course closer to home.

Our Academy has always been known for the high intellectual standards of its faculty and topnotch teaching facilities, and it has a wealth of experience to rely upon, for one, in training the flying personnel, as research engineers in particular. Our cosmonauts were well aware of that, of course. Since its very foundation in 1920 the Academy has been on the cutting edge of the global aerospace science and engineering.

стр. 57

It all began like this. Back in 1923 Tsiolkovsky made a report at a session of the Aeronautics Section of the Military Science Society* about his inventions. He was elected professor emeritus then and there. His ideas of a spacecraft and interplanetary voyages fired imagination of cadets, and many chose the aerospace science as their life vocation.

As early as 1929 a group of research scientists led by Boris Stechkin conceptualized fundamentals of the theory of air-breathing jet engines. In 1933 came the launching of the first Soviet liquid-propellant rocket designed by Mikhail Tikhonravov. This work gained momentum later on. In the 1950s Dr. Tigran Melkumov began research into propulsion systems for hypersonic and aerospace craft. At Alexander Reutov's and Gennady Kondratenkov's initiative work began in 1958 in the field of microwave visualization (imaging) with the aim of boosting the resolution

* A defense organization of volunteers. Set up in 1920, it was reorganized in 1926 into a Society for Assisting USSR Defense.--Ed.

of systems detecting objects on the ground and in the air, including those invisible in the optical wave bands. This was far from a complete list of the Academy's research "kit" in the aerospace science by the moment of man's first mission in extraterrestrial space.

On the first of September 1961, that is a few months after his epic flight, Yuri Gagarin began his classes at our Academy. The ET space pioneer, who was at the peak of world fame, spent six and a half years as our cadet. Defending his graduation project cum laude, he was in for the air pilot-cosmonaut-engineer's qualification. Taking a course together with him were other spacemen of the first induction--German Titov, Andrian Nikolayev, Pavel Popovich, Valery Bykovsky, Alexei Leonov, Boris Volynov, Yevgeny Khrunov, Georgi Shonin, Viktor Gorbatko, Dmitry Zaikin...

As the commander of his class, Gagarin was in close touch with the faculty. A special curriculum was drawn up for his group. This program meant for six years or so

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included general and engineering subjects as well as specialist disciplines. At lectures and seminars Gagarin would sit at the first desk. Taking notes quite accurately, he put questions, often going beyond the subject-matter. Knowledge was his imperative need, he imbibed it like sponge, his instructors say.

The academic course called for great application, it was strenuous physically, intellectually and emotionally, all the more so as it was combined with training for new flights and public activities. That is why the chiefs of the Academy and of the Cosmonauts' Training Center did their best to provide for their fitness activities and good rest. Gagarin had to spend a lot of time as a public figure visiting other countries. On such visits Gagarin and his classmates would take along their manuals and notes to dig in for the upcoming credit tests and exams. This workload was enormous, it required a good deal of stamina and staying power.

Gagarin and his class decided to cooperate on a collective graduation project dealing with a piloted reusable vehicle of the shuttle type. Joining hands with their instructors, Gagarin and his pals discussed their assignment in great detail and with much interest. Then, on Pavel Popovich's suggestion, they approached Sergei Korolev for advice and got his full support. It was a "stellar" think tank, with each graduate concentrating on particular tasks of their own within the framework of one integral problem. Thus, German Titov was involved with the emergency rescue system, Andrian Nikolayev took up aerodynamic characteristics and heat insulation, Popovich got busy with the propulsion system, Bykovsky focused on fuel supply. And so on down the line.

As the mastermind of the graduation project Gagarin had to tackle the most difficult job: he had to decide on the aerodynamic makeup of the orbital stage of the flight and on soft landing. His head adviser was Dr. Sergei Belo-tserkovsky, deputy chief of the Academy responsible for educational and research work, the man who was in charge of the engineering training of the detachment of the first cosmonauts. The project got kudos from the state commission of examiners. In its protocol it noted the high level of the work done and recommended Gagarin as a man with a bent for research work to an extramural postgraduate course at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy. Gagarin's classmates did just as well.

At this point we might just as well quote from the entries made by the Academy's alumni in their alma mater's memory album.

Yuri Gagarin: "In memory of the first space flights, with gratitude for the science you have given us. With sincere respect, Gagarin."

Boris Volynov: "It is with a great feeling of warmth that I recall my years of study in the famed Academy. I think back to the stillness and concentration of its auditoriums, and the busyness of its laboratories. We have gotten much more than capital knowledge. The kind, wise advice of our senior comrades is a dependable prop in our life and in professional activity. I wish to express my cordial thanks to the Academy's faculty and its collective for their selfless creative commitment for the good of our Motherland!"

German Titov: "I am glad that the Zhukovsky Academy has become a bedrock to me and my comrades in our hard work of space research decision making. A low bow to our instructors for their work and concern, for their kind regard for us."

Pavel Popovich: "We went to Zhukovka [pet name for the Zhukovsky Academy.--Tr.] to get a higher education. But we got far more. Our professors and instructors taught us to attack specialist questions as research engineers. Thank you for the science of working! This helped me

стр. 59

pretty much to fulfill the program of two space flights. May Zhukovka forge ahead in the front ranks as a nursery of Air Force engineers!"

There are dozens and dozens of compliments and good wishes in the visitors' book kept in the memorial Gagarin Room of the Academy, just where he was working on his graduation project.

Korolev's dream came true: the world's Number One spaceman got an excellent education. Yet it was not written in the stars for him to become a research scientist. On March 27, 1968, that is forty days after the defense of his graduation project, Gagarin was killed in a crash during a training flight. Colonel Vladimir Seregin, a Hero of the Soviet Union, who was in charge of the cosmonauts' flight training program, and who was in the same plane, lost his life together with Gagarin.

It was a great and painful loss to us and the whole world. Yet life went on, it posed new objectives for spacemen and their versatile skills, in the space science, too. Sergei Belo-tserkovsky, a man of great experience, played a crucial part in coaching them. He had a special flair for grading competitors according to their abilities, and in choosing an adequate course of further education and its strategy.

A large group of cosmonauts--our graduates and research assistants alike--became holders of the academic degrees of Doctors and Candidates of Sciences (M. Sc). Thus, Toktar Aubakirov, Yuri Lonchakov and German Titov won doctorates; Yuri Artyukhin, Valery Bykovsky, Lev Demin, Viktor Gorbatko, Vladimir Kovalenok, Yevgeny Khrunov, Alexei Leonov, Andrian Nikolayev, Valentina Ponomareva, Pavel Popovich, Georgi Shonin, Irina Solov-yova and Valentina Tereshkova were in for the M. Sc. degree.

We shall always remember each of the galaxy of our alumni, their teachers and instructors. They are one of the brightest pages in the chronicle of our college. Our staff and cadets make it a practice to hold meetings with the pathfinders of the universe, and mark red-letter days in the Academy's history, in the history of aviation and cosmonautics. One such gala event took place in February of 2008 on the fortieth anniversary of the graduation class of the first detachment of cosmonauts, an event featured in the book Zhukovka's Stellar Graduation Class; a memorial desk medal was coined for the occasion.

Gracing the Hall of Fame of the Academy's museum are bust sculptures of cosmonauts, our graduates. The façade of the administrative edifice carries the memorial plaques in honor of the Chief Marshal of the Air Force Konstantin Vershinin, and the People's Commissar (Minister) of the Aircraft Manufacturing Industry Colonel-General Alexei Shakhurin, who held this post in 1940 to 1946. The Yuri Gagarin plaque is there, too. Gagarin lived a short but glorious life. Secondary school, junior technical college, flying school, his stint of service in the Air Force, his orbital flight and activities as the commander of the cosmonauts' detachment; and last, as deputy chief the Cosmonauts' Training Center--these are the milestones of this life. At all of its stages Yuri Gagarin remained as he was--kind, likable and open-hearted. And bright. A good wit, he was a highly motivated individual and, in the teeth of universal admiration, he never let his stardom go to his head. The "stellar disease" was absolutely alien to him. This is what we remember and love him like.

To conclude, I would like to cite what Acad. Mstislav Keldysh*, President of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1961-1975, had to say: "Yuri was really hot. Hot in business. Everything that concerned our work moved him, touched him. Outgoing like a small child, he would rejoice in each success of ours, and he took it hard if there were hurdles in the way. He had no fear of difficulties. Not at all! He was quite anxious as far as our work was concerned. Took it to heart. Very much! His passion, good faith and exceptional sense of responsibility infected all of us. We learned from him..."

See: B. Chetverushkin, K. Brushlinsky, "Our Director"; L. Zelyony, O. Zakutnyaya, "Chief Theorist and Strategist of National Cosmonautics", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2011.--Ed.


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Boris FOMKIN, COSMONAUT NUMBER ONE // Astana: Digital Library of Kazakhstan (BIBLIO.KZ). Updated: 21.09.2021. URL: https://biblio.kz/m/articles/view/COSMONAUT-NUMBER-ONE (date of access: 22.10.2021).

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