Fifty years ago today, the galaxy trembled as the Soviet war machine marched into space. Well, really, one Soviet floated through space, but that doesn't sound nearly as terrifying. On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin boarded the Vostok 1 capsule for one orbit around the Earth, becoming the first human being to slip the surly bonds of Earth.
Not only did Gagarin survive the flight, but as recently opened archives reveal, the 27-year-old cosmonaut had to deal with a mess of technical glitches and mistakes to do it. He was being blasted too far into orbit when an engine failed to cut out in time, and had to bail out after the capsule went into a dangerous spin on reentry. Gagarin landed in a field some 200 miles from the intended landing spot. And then, just 8 years later, he was killed in an unexplained plane crash. Yes, Yuri Gagarin died younger than I am now. And what have I done with my life?
In the course of Woot's weird fixation with the USSR's early space program, we've celebrated Sputnik's 50th with a now-classic Shirt.Woot design, and we've devoted a blog post to the first Earthlings to go to space and come back alive, a pair of Russo-pups named Belka and Strelka. We've even highlighted some Mongolian space stamps. Until now, all Comrade Yuri's gotten is his name possibly mispronounced in a Woot podcast. We hope the following videos in his honor will make up for the oversight.
First, an encore screening of the inspiring story of Woot's space program, thanks to some Woot fans who launched a rocket with a crew of our mascot monkeys:
And now enjoy British folk-punk firestarter Billy Bragg's "I Wanna Be A Cosmonaut", as performed by his late 70s punk band Riff Raff. Bragg himself tweeted the link in tribute to Gagarin today, and we're happy to pass it on here. 93 seconds of pure shouty staccato mania, coming right up:
Finally, on a completely different and bizarre musical note, Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson duets on flute with astronaut Cady Coleman. The twist: Anderson's in Perm, Russia, while Coleman is aboard the International Space Station. (As seen on Making Light.
Little did Gagarin or anyone else know that Vostok 1 would mark the Soviets' biggest triumph in the space race. Before long, our square-jawed guys with crewcuts would beat their square-jawed guys with crewcuts to every significant space milestone. But as Sputnik, and Belka and Strelka, and Yuri Gagarin all prove, if even the Soviets could get something right, there's hope for rest of us.
(Thanks to Matt E., Jon V., Jason H., and Matthew N. for their suggestions for this post.)