As we approach the 50th Anniversary, on April 12, of the first space flight with Yuri Gagarin in the capsule, a timely release of a revised and expanded edition of the most authoritive book on his brief life.
This book will be controversial. Of all the words that may be written to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first recorded human flight beyond Earth’s atmosphere and into space, this book will contain the best researched comment and record of a great historic voyage and of the man who made it. First published in 1998 this book is being released in revised and expanded form. It will be controversial because the Russian space exploration programme was a critical element in the Cold War arms race between the West and the USSR.
NAME: Starman, The Truth Behind The Legend Of Yuri Gagarin
CLASSIFICATION: Book reviews
AUTHOR: Jamie Doran, Piers Bizony
BINDING: Soft back
PRICE: GB £8.99
SUBJECT: Great Patriotic War, Russian space exploration, Earth orbit, rocket science, technology, KGB, alcoholism, cosmology, first orbit, 50th anniversary
DESCRIPTION: This book will be controversial. Of all the words that may be written to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first recorded human flight beyond Earth’s atmosphere and into space, this book will contain the best researched comment and record of a great historic voyage and of the man who made it. First published in 1998 this book is being released in revised and expanded form. It will be controversial because the Russian space exploration programme was a critical element in the Cold War arms race between the West and the USSR. Much of that history is still not public record and as the remnants of the USSR sink back into a new era of rule by a ‘strong man’ and secret police, old heroes are being restored. In the process, their histories are being carefully air brushed by the new regime. The authors of this book have attempted an unvarnished and accurate account of the life of Yuri Gagarin, which will not accord with his ‘official’ portrait as an element in the new regime’s propaganda. Gagarin was a product of his environment. At the age of six he was a child saboteur fighting the German invaders during the Great Patriotic War. Born in the Smolensk region to the west of Moscow in March 1934, Gagarin’s family worked on a farm co-operative. Had it not been for the German invasion in 1941, Gagarin would probably have become a farm boy, classed as a peasant, and hoping to survive the disappearances that were a regular feature of Soviet life. The Germans swept through Smolensk on the way to Moscow and then fell back through Smolensk in a fighting retreat. The Russian peasants were caught between two forces that both regarded them with suspicion and the wise looked for somewhere to hide until the fighting passed them by. Yuri became one of the child-saboteurs, leaving broken glass along the roads hoping ruin the tyres of German vehicles, or contaminating batteries being restored for German armour. The authors have captured the hardship of this period in western Russia. After the war the Gagarin family moved and built a new home. Yuri was inspired by the village school teacher who had been an airman. This carried Gagarin through Saratov Technical School and into the AeroClub. Gagarin flew a MiG-15 jet fighter for the first time in March 1957, the same year when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite “Sputnik”. He married and in only three and a half years made history with the first orbital flight. Flying MiG-15 fighters, Gagarin had been interviewed in 1959 by one of the mysterious recruiting teams touring Soviet air stations. Recruitment of cosmonauts was one of the top secrets of the time and, when Gagarin made the first orbits, the jubilant Soviet announcement took the world by surprise. The authors have covered the recruitment and training as carefully as they have covered the historic space flight in April 1961. In addition to the well-written text, there is a black and white plate section showing Gagarin from childhood to his final months. Gagarin was a very valuable propaganda property and was shown off extensively outside the Soviet Union. Dead at the age of only 34, Garagin’s star had shone early and bright, but briefly. The real controversy covers his final years and death in 1968. Intriguingly all the key events of Gagarin’s short life seem to have taken place in March and April, perhaps appropriate for someone who was the foundation stone in the Spring of man’s next great series of historic voyages. The authors have constructed a convincing sequence of events as they recount his final years. There remains the strong suspicion that Gagarin was killed deliberately, and not in an accident, because the Soviet rulers considered that he was becoming a dangerous embarrassment. Through his life there were indications that he was a less than enthusiastic Communist but the best-known Soviet icon of his time. As a new propaganda machine warms up and begins by air brushing Heroes of the Soviet era, there are claims that Gagarin was only a moderate drinker but for an air force pilot of his times, moderate drinking would be viewed as terminal alcoholism outside Soviet Russia. The reality has been that Russians have led hard and depressed lives into the era where most other nations were enjoying rapidly extending average life spans, greatly improving health and optimism. Alcohol has filled a void that ceased to exist elsewhere. To attempt to judge a man by what was an endemic national illness seems petty, but not as petty as attempts to rewrite history for political advantage. This is a very absorbing book that commemorates an important anniversary and casts light on a pioneer who is not well known beyond his name and a single event in his life.