The Soviet successes in space belied the toughness and dangers of training and the missions themselves. Cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko perished in a ground test fire just weeks before Gagarin’s mission; Vladimir Komorov fell to his death in 1967 when the parachutes of his new Soyuz spacecraft failed during the return to Earth.
From the 1970s onwards Russia reined its space programme back into Earth orbit, building a succession of space stations to serve first military and then increasingly political and scientific goals. Cosmonauts spent ever longer periods in space, their survival enabled by a raft of ingenious life-support systems and technologies.
So what kind of person and training does it take to survive the demands and dangers of space? Follow our series of stories that reveal all about the life of a Russian cosmonaut, from training regimes and the equipment needed on a space station, to the history behind their rituals and superstitions.
Image credit: Hydro Lab (neutral buoyancy training facility) © State Organization "Gagarin Research&Test Cosmonaut Training Center"
Find out the instrumental part that music plays in the Russian space programme, from the first guitar taken to space to the many therapeutic benefits music bestows.
Living in space
The life of a cosmonaut is not all thrills and adventure. Discover the many difficulties and restrictions of life on a space station, from sleeping standing up to the psychological impact of living in the closest of quarters.
Rituals and superstitions
From talismans and shrines to flattened coins, find out about the surprising rituals and superstitions of Cosmonauts in the Russian space programme – from Gagarin to the current day.
Training for space
The rigorous training required to become a Cosmonaut is now well documented. But exactly how did the first Cosmonaut teams prepare for the gruelling journey to space when no human had ever been there?