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The Original Space Cowboys: Gagarin and His Team

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On March 7, 1960, the Soviet Union completed the formation of its first squad of cosmonauts, paving the way for space exploration. Just a year later, Yuri Gagarin, one of the team’s members, became the first human to enter space.

On March 7, 1960, the Soviet Union completed the formation of its first squad of cosmonauts, paving the way for space exploration. Just a year later, Yuri Gagarin, one of the team’s members, became the first human to enter space.

© Sputnik / Alexander Mokletsov / Go to the photo bankBy the end of 1950s, the Soviet Union’s science level had reached a remarkable level and the government decided to have a go at a human space flight and select candidates.

Above: Soviet pilot-cosmonaut Alexei Leonov training in the centrifuge at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
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By the end of 1950s, the Soviet Union’s science level had reached a remarkable level and the government decided to have a go at a human space flight and select candidates.

Above: Soviet pilot-cosmonaut Alexei Leonov training in the centrifuge at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
© Sputnik / Alexander Mokletsov / Go to the photo bankExcellent health was the primary requirement for a candidate. A prospective cosmonaut had to be 35 or younger, less than 1,75 meters tall and weigh a maximum of 75 kg.

Above: Cosmonaut Georgy Shonin in a swimming-pool.
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Excellent health was the primary requirement for a candidate. A prospective cosmonaut had to be 35 or younger, less than 1,75 meters tall and weigh a maximum of 75 kg.

Above: Cosmonaut Georgy Shonin in a swimming-pool.
© Sputnik / Alexander Mokletsov / Go to the photo bankSergei Korolyov, the founding father of the Soviet cosmonaut program and the director of Yuri Gagarin’s flight, considered military pilots as the most suitable candidates.

Above: Cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin, in the foreground, and Valery Bykovsky on the parallel bars.
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Sergei Korolyov, the founding father of the Soviet cosmonaut program and the director of Yuri Gagarin’s flight, considered military pilots as the most suitable candidates.

Above: Cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin, in the foreground, and Valery Bykovsky on the parallel bars.
© Sputnik / Alexander Mokletsov / Go to the photo bank“He [an Air Force pilot] is a universal specialist. He is a pilot, a navigator, a signalist, and a flight engineer,” Korolyov said thus giving preference to Air Force representatives.

Above: Soviet pilots-cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin (left) and Alexei Leonov (right) on the airfield after a training session.
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“He [an Air Force pilot] is a universal specialist. He is a pilot, a navigator, a signalist, and a flight engineer,” Korolyov said thus giving preference to Air Force representatives.

Above: Soviet pilots-cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin (left) and Alexei Leonov (right) on the airfield after a training session.
© Sputnik / I. Snegirev / Go to the photo bankOnly 347 people met the health and professional criteria. They moved on to have an interview.

Above: Cosmonauts Pavel Popovich, left, and Andriyan Nikolayev during an astronavigation class.
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Only 347 people met the health and professional criteria. They moved on to have an interview.

Above: Cosmonauts Pavel Popovich, left, and Andriyan Nikolayev during an astronavigation class.
© Sputnik / Alexander Mokletsov / Go to the photo bankAbove: Soyuz-24 spacecraft crew - Soviet space pilot, Hero of the Soviet Union and spacecraft commander Colonel Viktor Gorbatko (right) and onboard engineer Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Glazkov (left) - in preflight training.
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Above: Soyuz-24 spacecraft crew - Soviet space pilot, Hero of the Soviet Union and spacecraft commander Colonel Viktor Gorbatko (right) and onboard engineer Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Glazkov (left) - in preflight training.
© Sputnik / RIA Novosti / Go to the photo bankCosmonauts recall that they were asked a question: “Would you like to fly a new vehicle?”

Above: Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov enjoying weightlessness in a flying laboratory preparing for space flight.
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Cosmonauts recall that they were asked a question: “Would you like to fly a new vehicle?”

Above: Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov enjoying weightlessness in a flying laboratory preparing for space flight.
© Sputnik / RIA Novosti / Go to the photo bankNo one specified what exactly the “new vehicle” meant. Candidates had to answer unhesitatingly.

Above: Prospective Pilots-Cosmonauts examine space technology. Yuri Gagarin is second from right and Andriyan Nikolayev is sixth right.
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No one specified what exactly the “new vehicle” meant. Candidates had to answer unhesitatingly.

Above: Prospective Pilots-Cosmonauts examine space technology. Yuri Gagarin is second from right and Andriyan Nikolayev is sixth right.
© Sputnik / RIA Novosti / Go to the photo bankPhysical checks were rigorous. Candidates had to undergo ‘stress tests’ including riding in an aerospace chamber and a centrifuge.

Above: Cosmonaut Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov before training on the centrifuge. The cosmonauts' training center (now the Yu. A. Gagarin State Scientific Research-and-Testing Cosmonaut Training Center), Star City. A photograph from the archive of the APN publishing house.
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Physical checks were rigorous. Candidates had to undergo ‘stress tests’ including riding in an aerospace chamber and a centrifuge.

Above: Cosmonaut Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov before training on the centrifuge. The cosmonauts' training center (now the Yu. A. Gagarin State Scientific Research-and-Testing Cosmonaut Training Center), Star City. A photograph from the archive of the APN publishing house.
© Sputnik / RIA Novosti / Go to the photo bankFinally, on March 7, 1960, the final squad of 12 people was formed.

Above: First Soviet cosmonaut squad. Front row, left to right: P. Popovich, V. Gorbatko, Y. Khrunov, Yuri Gagarin, chief designer Sergei Korolev, N. Koroleva with Popovich's daughter Natasha, Ye. Karpov, head of cosmonaut group, parachute jumping instructor N. Nikitin and doctor Y. Fyodorov. Back row, left to right: A. Leonov, A. Nikolayev, M. Rafikov, D. Zaikin, B. Volynov, G. Titov, G. Nelyubov, Valery Bykovsky and G. Shonin. Third row, left to right: V. Filatyev, I. Anikeyev and P. Belyayev. [16 from original group of 20 trainee cosmonauts are pictured. 11 of these flew in space.]
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Finally, on March 7, 1960, the final squad of 12 people was formed.

Above: First Soviet cosmonaut squad. Front row, left to right: P. Popovich, V. Gorbatko, Y. Khrunov, Yuri Gagarin, chief designer Sergei Korolev, N. Koroleva with Popovich's daughter Natasha, Ye. Karpov, head of cosmonaut group, parachute jumping instructor N. Nikitin and doctor Y. Fyodorov. Back row, left to right: A. Leonov, A. Nikolayev, M. Rafikov, D. Zaikin, B. Volynov, G. Titov, G. Nelyubov, Valery Bykovsky and G. Shonin. Third row, left to right: V. Filatyev, I. Anikeyev and P. Belyayev. [16 from original group of 20 trainee cosmonauts are pictured. 11 of these flew in space.]
© Sputnik / Alexander Mokletsov / Go to the photo bankSince the construction of a training base had yet to be completed, the squad was divided into two groups of six cosmonauts each.

Above: Soviet pilot-cosmonauts in the "Cosmos" pavilion at VDNKh (All-Russia Exhibition Centre). Left to right: Pavel Popovich, Alexei Leonov, Pavel Belyaev, German Titov.
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Since the construction of a training base had yet to be completed, the squad was divided into two groups of six cosmonauts each.

Above: Soviet pilot-cosmonauts in the "Cosmos" pavilion at VDNKh (All-Russia Exhibition Centre). Left to right: Pavel Popovich, Alexei Leonov, Pavel Belyaev, German Titov.
© Sputnik / RIA Novosti / Go to the photo bankThe first group comprising Y. Gagarin, G. Titov, A. Nikolayev, A. Kartashov, V. Varlamov and P. Popovich was prioritized and trained more intensively than the second group.

Above: Pilot-Cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolayev inside Vostok spacecraft simulator.
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The first group comprising Y. Gagarin, G. Titov, A. Nikolayev, A. Kartashov, V. Varlamov and P. Popovich was prioritized and trained more intensively than the second group.

Above: Pilot-Cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolayev inside Vostok spacecraft simulator.
© Sputnik / Alexander Mokletsov / Go to the photo bankIn January and April 1961, the candidates passed their exams with excellence and received a qualification of “Air Force cosmonauts”.

Left to right: Pilots-Cosmonauts Pavel Belyayev, Vladimir Komarov and Alexei Leonov in bus headed for Voskhod-2 launch pad.
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In January and April 1961, the candidates passed their exams with excellence and received a qualification of “Air Force cosmonauts”.

Left to right: Pilots-Cosmonauts Pavel Belyayev, Vladimir Komarov and Alexei Leonov in bus headed for Voskhod-2 launch pad.
© Sputnik / RIA Novosti / Go to the photo bankTwelve squad members carried out space flights, with Yuri Gagarin being the first human to enter space on April 12, 1961.

Above: Yuri Gagarin and his back-up German (Herman) Titov in a bus on the way to the launching site at the Baikonur cosmodrome on April 12, 1961. Reproduction.
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Twelve squad members carried out space flights, with Yuri Gagarin being the first human to enter space on April 12, 1961.

Above: Yuri Gagarin and his back-up German (Herman) Titov in a bus on the way to the launching site at the Baikonur cosmodrome on April 12, 1961. Reproduction.
© Sputnik / RIA Novosti / Go to the photo bankAbove: Landing of 'Vostok-1 spacecraft in which Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth on April 12, 1961. Gagarin ejected from the craft some time before it landed and parachuted safely to Earth.
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Above: Landing of 'Vostok-1 spacecraft in which Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth on April 12, 1961. Gagarin ejected from the craft some time before it landed and parachuted safely to Earth.
© Sputnik / Valeriy Shustov / Go to the photo bankAbove: Red carpet welcome of The First pilot-cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union Yuri Gagarin. Demonstration of the working people on Red Square.
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Above: Red carpet welcome of The First pilot-cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union Yuri Gagarin. Demonstration of the working people on Red Square.
© Sputnik / A. Sverdlov / Go to the photo bankAlexei Leonov performed the first spacewalk on March 18, 1965. It lasted for 12 minutes and 9 seconds.

Above: Pilot-Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov taking a space walk, 1965. Still from documentary "In A Space Suit Above the Planet."
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Alexei Leonov performed the first spacewalk on March 18, 1965. It lasted for 12 minutes and 9 seconds.

Above: Pilot-Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov taking a space walk, 1965. Still from documentary "In A Space Suit Above the Planet."
© Sputnik / Go to the photo bankBoris Volynov was the squad’s main veteran. Since his enlistment in 1960, he spent 30 years as a cosmonaut and retired in 1990.

Above: The Vostok-1 space ship with the world's first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin before the start. April 12, 1961. A shot from a documentary made in 1968.
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Boris Volynov was the squad’s main veteran. Since his enlistment in 1960, he spent 30 years as a cosmonaut and retired in 1990.

Above: The Vostok-1 space ship with the world's first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin before the start. April 12, 1961. A shot from a documentary made in 1968.
© Sputnik / Go to the photo bankAbove: Crew members of space ship "Voskhod" Boris Egorov, Vladimir Komarov and Konstantin Feoktistov (from left) returning to Baikonur cosmodrome after space flight, 1964.
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Above: Crew members of space ship "Voskhod" Boris Egorov, Vladimir Komarov and Konstantin Feoktistov (from left) returning to Baikonur cosmodrome after space flight, 1964.
© Sputnik / RIA Novosti / Go to the photo bankAbove: German Titov (center) putting on a cosmonaut suit before his flight aboard the Vostok 5.
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Above: German Titov (center) putting on a cosmonaut suit before his flight aboard the Vostok 5.
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