Yuri Gagarin : biography
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin ( 9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968) was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961.
Gagarin became an international celebrity, and was awarded many medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation’s highest honour. Vostok 1 marked his only spaceflight, but he served as backup crew to the Soyuz 1 mission (which ended in a fatal crash). Gagarin later became deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre outside Moscow, which was later named after him. Gagarin died in 1968 when the MiG-15 training jet he was piloting crashed.
On 27 March 1968, while on a routine training flight from Chkalovsky Air Base, he and flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin died in a MiG-15UTI crash near the town of Kirzhach. The bodies of Gagarin and Seryogin were cremated and the ashes were buried in the walls of the Kremlin on Red Square.
Gagarin was survived by his wife Valentina, and daughters Elena and Galina. Elena Yurievna Gagarina, Yuri’s elder daughter, is an art historian who has worked as the director-general of the Moscow Kremlin Museums since 2001. His younger daughter, Galina Yurievna Gagarina, is department chair and a professor of economics at Plekhanov Russian University of Economics in Moscow.
Cause of jet crash
The cause of the crash that killed Gagarin is not entirely certain, and has been subject to speculation about conspiracy theories over the ensuing decades.
Soviet documents declassified in March 2003 showed that the KGB had conducted their own investigation of the accident, in addition to one government and two military investigations. The KGB’s report dismissed various conspiracy theories, instead indicating that the actions of airbase personnel contributed to the crash. The report states that an air traffic controller provided Gagarin with outdated weather information, and that by the time of his flight, conditions had deteriorated significantly. Ground crew also left external fuel tanks attached to the aircraft. Gagarin’s planned flight activities needed clear weather and no outboard tanks. The investigation concluded that Gagarin’s aircraft entered a spin, either due to a bird strike or because of a sudden move to avoid another aircraft. Because of the out-of-date weather report, the crew believed their altitude to be higher than it actually was, and could not react properly to bring the MiG-15 out of its spin.
Another theory, advanced by the original crash investigator in 2005, hypothesizes that a cabin air vent was accidentally left open by the crew or the previous pilot, leading to oxygen deprivation and leaving the crew incapable of controlling the aircraft. A similar theory, published in Air & Space magazine, is that the crew detected the open vent and followed procedure by executing a rapid dive to a lower altitude. This dive caused them to lose consciousness and crash.
On 12 April 2007, the Kremlin vetoed a new investigation into the death of Gagarin. Government officials said that they saw no reason to begin a new investigation.
In April 2011, documents from a 1968 commission set up by the Central Committee of the Communist Party to investigate the accident were declassified. Those documents revealed that the commission’s original conclusion was that Gagarin or Seryogin had maneuvered sharply either to avoid a weather balloon, leading the jet into a "super-critical flight regime and to its stalling in complex meteorological conditions," or to avoid "entry into the upper limit of the first layer of cloud cover".
In his 2004 book Two Sides of the Moon, Alexey Leonov, who was part of a State Commission established to investigate the death in 1968, recounts that he was flying a helicopter in the same area that day when he heard "two loud booms in the distance." Corroborating other theories, his conclusion is that a Sukhoi jet (which he identifies as a Su-15 ‘Flagon’) was flying below its minimum allowed altitude, and "without realizing it because of the terrible weather conditions, he passed within 10 or 20 meters of Yuri and Seregin’s plane while breaking the sound barrier." The resulting turbulence would have sent the MiG into an uncontrolled spin. Leonov believes the first boom he heard was that of the jet breaking the sound barrier, and the second was Gagarin’s plane crashing. In a June 2013 interview with Russian television network RT, Leonov said that a declassified report on the incident revealed the presence of a second, "unauthorized" Su-15 flying in the area. Leonov states that this aircraft had descended to and that, while running afterburners, "the aircraft reduced its echelon at a distance of 10-15 meters in the clouds, passing close to Gagarin, turning his plane and thus sending it into a tailspin – a deep spiral, to be precise – at a speed of 750 kilometers per hour." As a condition of being allowed to discuss the report, however, Leonov was required to not disclose the name of the other pilot, who was reported as being in his 80s and in poor health.