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Gagarin's historic mission


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Vostok-2 mission: First day in space

Less than four months after Yuri Gagarin's pioneering one-orbit flight, USSR stunned the world with yet another space first on August 6, 1961. This time, Yuri's backup, Gherman Titov, spent a day in space aboard the Vostok-2 spacecraft. The record-breaking mission looked even more startling at the time when NASA planned a 24-hour flight as the ultimate goal of its Mercury project, to be achieved in the sixth piloted launch.

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A historical globe built at Korolev's OKB-1 shows ground track of the Vostok-2 mission on August 6 and 7, 1961.

The Vostok-2 mission at a glance:

Spacecraft designation
Vostok-2 (a.k.a. Vostok-3A No. 4 or 3KA No. 4)
Call sign:
Orel (Eagle)
Launch date and time
1961 Aug. 6, 08:59:57 Moscow Time
Landing date and time
1961 Aug. 7, 10:11 Moscow Time
Inclination (planned)
65 degrees
Perigee (planned)
180 kilometers
Flight duration
25 hours 18 minutes
Distance covered
703,143 kilometers
Number of orbits
Landing site
Krasny Kut, Saratov Region

Preparing the Vostok-2 mission

Even heavily censored Soviet accounts of the Vostok-2 mission provided hints about a great debate which had been raging over the proposed flight duration in the runup to Titov's launch. (507) During his vacation in Sochi, Crimea, following Gagarin's flight in April 1961, Korolev pondered over the plan for the second manned flight. At the time, medical specialists and other experts insisted on the mission limited to three orbits. Their main argument was that the first three orbits were overflying southern Russia, with the landing site drifting westward with each subsequent orbit. Between the 8th and 13th orbit, the landing would fall into the ocean. (506) After the 13th orbit, the landing would be again possible in the USSR, however only in inhospitable and remote regions of the Soviet Far East covered with taiga, rocks and tundra. (507)

Only after the planet would make a full turn below the spacecraft in 24 hours after launch, would the landing opportunity shift back to the European part of Russia. However the commitment to a day-long mission presented serious medical concerns. The available data from Vostok test flights indicated that dogs had experienced serious vestibular problems after making six or seven revolutions around the Earth.

Nikolai Kamanin, the head of cosmonaut training, and Vladimir Yazdovsky, leading space medicine expert, traveled to Sochi for a meeting with Korolev with a plan for a three-orbit flight. (Coincidently, NASA planned the first orbital mission of the Mercury spacecraft to last three orbits).

However Korolev insisted on a day-long program with an argument that even after a three-orbit flight, the program would still have to make a huge leap to a 24-hour mission because of restrictions for a safe landing on the Soviet territory. Moreover, the day-long flight would confirm that a human can function in space during a complete day cycle.

While still in Sochi, Korolev disclosed to Titov a plan for a day-long flight and mentioned proposals for a three-orbit mission. (507)

Flight program

On July 3, 1961, top Soviet officials overseeing rocket industry, including Korolev, signed a top-secret note declaring preparations for the Vostok-2 mission completed. Although the document was addressed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, its was essentially a request to the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, to bless the flight plan for the second Vostok.

According to the document, the mission would last up to 24 hours, concluding at the beginning of the 18th orbit along the Rostov-Kuibyshev-Perm line. The goals of the mission were presented as following:

  • The study of the influence of weightlessness on the human body during a long-duration flight;
  • Testing a possibility of control and orientation of the spacecraft under manual control;
  • Testing a possibility of filming and observation with optical devices of the Earth surface by the pilot.

The document placed available window for the Vostok-2 launch between July 25 and August 5, 1961. As with Gagarin's mission, the document proposed to make a public announcement about the launch, immediately after the confirmation that Vostok-2 had reached its orbit.

On July 6, a Presidium of the Central Committee signed off on the mission plan, including the 24-hour flight duration. However, the approved draft of the public announcement about the successful launch would only state that the mission had a task of studying effects of weightlessness on the human body in a "long-duration" flight, without mentioning the expected time of landing.

The same document also officially appointed Leonid Smirnov as the chairman of the State Commission overseeing the upcoming flight. In this important capacity, Smirnov replaced Konstantin Rudnev. (509)

Korolev returned to Moscow in June 1961, to personally lead preparations for the Vostok-2 mission. He oversaw final tests of the spacecraft in Podlipki from July 23 to July 26 and then flew to a launch site in Tyuratam on July 31, 1961. (506)

To ensure radiation safety during the mission, Soviet astrophysics centers conducted careful monitoring of the Sun's activity. High-altitude balloon flights were also launched to measure radiation levels in the stratosphere. In addition, the spacecraft was equipped with radiation-measuring equipment aboard, which had capability to transmit data to ground stations, and the cosmonaut had a portable radiation counter in his cabin. (505)

Titov also had a professional Soviet-built Konvas movie camera aboard, which was modified for space flight (52) and could record on black and white and color film. The cosmonaut also received a small optical telescope with magnification from three to five times.

As in Gagarin's mission, the orbit was expected to have a perigee of 180 kilometers, low enough to ensure natural decay and reentry of the spacecraft between two and eight days into the mission, in case of a failure of the braking engine. At the same time, the spacecraft had enough power and air for a 10-day flight. (509)

The spacecraft modifications

Learning a great deal from the Gagarin's flight, engineers managed to incorporate a number of modifications in the design of the Vostok spacecraft for its second manned mission. The TV transmission system, which previously worked poorly, was upgraded. The telemetry system was also updated with the Signal short-wave transmitter, which was designed to help track the spacecraft and also to serve as a backup downlink channel for medical data during flight periods outside of the Soviet territory when more reliable UHF communications would not be possible . (27)

Vostok-2 was also equipped with an upgraded air-conditioning system, which went through a 12-day laboratory testing. (509)

Final details

The formal flight assignment for Titov and Nikolaev was finally signed by Kamanin on August 3 and then by Korolev on August 4, 1961. According to the document, the liftoff was set for 09:00 Moscow Time. The automated landing was planned during the 18th orbit on the Soviet territory at an altitude of 52.5 degrees. In emergency, the automated landing could be performed during the 2nd, 3rd and 6th orbit and, in case of problems with the automated system, the manual return could be attempted subsequently during the 4th, 5th and 17th orbits.

As usual, Titov was expected to use his ejection seat before the touchdown, even though one Soviet source claimed that the cosmonaut had been "allowed to eject during landing in case of the good health condition"! (505) According to Titov's Soviet era memoirs, during a formal approval of the flight plan, officials asked his opinion about the duration of the flight and Titov naturally supported Korolev's call for a day-long flight. However, the State Commission cautiously decided to plan the flight for a day, however reserved the right to make a final approval for the full duration based on the health of the cosmonaut after three orbits. (507)

Final preparations

On the eve of the flight on August 5, Korolev personally visited Titov and Nikolaev at Site 2 in Tyuratam and assured them that preparations for launch had been going as planned. "Sleep well," he reportedly told them before going back to the pad. (508) In the meantime, the launch team did not get to sleep well. Most key specialists were awaken at 03:00 and an hour later arrived to the launch facility. At 05:00, the State Commission gave a green light to the fueling of the launch vehicle and the launch. (27)

A cosmonaut training specialist Evgeniy Karpov woke up Titov before dawn on August 6, 1961, in the cottage at Site 2. Stars were still out, but the sky was turning red in the East. As four months before, Titov went through suiting up procedures, this time with Nikolaev as his backup. Titov later complained in his post-flight report that the planned hour-and-a-half operation of sensor attachments to his body lasted 40 minutes longer, disrupting the pre-launch schedule. (509)

As before Gagarin's launch, Titov made a familiar ride to the pad aboard a blue bus, concluding with a "space helmet kiss" with Nikolaev at the base of the Vostok rocket, some two hours before a scheduled liftoff. (27) As Titov climbed to his spacecraft struggling with summer heat, Nikolaev stayed in the bus until a 30-minute readiness for the launch was announced. He then put off the spacesuit and went to a viewing point to see the liftoff. (508, 509)


The flight

Vostok-2 lifted off on Aug. 6, 1961, at 08:59:57 Moscow Time. After a flawless ascent, the spacecraft entered a 183 by 244-kilometer orbit.

The confirmation of the correct orbit was made some 20 minutes after the launch and soon the Soviet press announced it to the world.

According to his own recollections a day after the flight, for the first few minutes, Titov just sat looking at moving Earth behind his two windows. He then removed his gloves, opened the visor and checked key instruments. He noticed that the globe of the flight programming mechanism had began moving as planned and other indicators seemed normal.

Titov also tried the radio and was surprised to pick a very clear reception from a Japanese station broadcasting in Russian. (509) Titov said he had received a word from mission control that his orbital period (time required to complete one revolution around the Earth) was 88.6 minutes. (507) This message apparently came from the Vesna-2 ground station in Khabarovsk in the Soviet Far East, because no contact was possible with the European part of the country during the first orbit, Titov remembered.

At 09:46, as Vostok-2 was around 30 degrees South latitude and continued heading south, Titov heard Khabarovsk station playing "Amurskie Volny," (an old Russian song) and a carrier signal but no exchange with ground control was possible this time. All communications ceased around 09:50, apparently when the spacecraft was passing the southernmost point of its orbit over the Southern Hemisphere.

Around 10:00, Titov resolved the code on locking mechanism of the flight control system, pressed a button activating manual attitude control and began preparations for the orientation exercise, which he started around 10:05 using his hand controller. It took around 20 seconds for the spacecraft to stop tumbling and take a stable position. During that time, the pressure indicator in the attitude control system went from 160 to 150 atmospheres.

Although Titov was flying in darkness at the time, with the lights off in the cockpit, he was able to distinguish between the pitch-black sky behind the window and the night-covered Earth's surface, which was slightly illuminated by the moon light.

It took Titov around 10 minutes to put the spacecraft into required orientation, which he reported around 10:15. The pressure in the tanks went down to 135 atmospheres by that time.

In the meantime, Vostok-2 emerged from darkness, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, flew over Africa and over the Mediterranean.

At the beginning of the second orbit, as Vostok-2 reappeared over the USSR, Titov spent around 10 minutes filming the Earth's surface and the sky. (52) His light exposure indicator had lost its dial after he first tried it, (probably as a result of loads during the launch) and he had to guess his camera settings from that point on. (Titov's footage of the Earth's surface was made public soon after the flight).


He also attempted to photograph view of the Earth in the Vzor window, which was used by the pilot for the manual orientation of the spacecraft in flight. These images could be used for training purposes. (507)

At 10:35, he telegraphed first in a series of prepared messages, reporting about his successful flight to the Kremlin with personal greetings to Khrushchev and to the Soviet people.

Titov also apparently tried to correct slight drifting of the spacecraft from prescribed orientation, until he finally put the vehicle into a spin stabilization mode and turned off the attitude control system around 11:00. By that time, 120 atmospheres of pressure was still remaining in the thruster tanks.

At 11:09, Titov heard strong interference on short waves and turned down the sound, but five minutes later a Russian folk song burst into his head phones. Soon thereafter, Titov remembered receiving a message from flight controllers giving him settings for the update of the Globus navigation aid on his control panel. Titov said he could hardly reach the dials of the Globus, while remaining strapped to his seat and, since such updates had to be done practically every orbit, it turned into a rather painful routine.

"I even saw red spots on my right hand after I landed... and it took a lot of sweat to reach it," Titov told members of the State Commission. On the bright side, he felt no serious motion sickness effects at that point in the mission.

At 11:10, Titov began testing his vestibular system, taking various poses, including stretching his hands with his eyes closed and then trying to touch his nose. It was accomplished without problems. He also successfully made drawings of various geometrical shapes. However, he aborted an exercise with sharp turns of his head, which did result in some unpleasant feelings.

At 11:27, Titov turned his radio on and immediately caught the Soviet song "March of Enthusiasts," followed by the official announcement about his launch. He heard another series of Soviet songs at 11:32 on his shortwave radio, which then switched to simple call signs, which he was able to hear even during southernmost part of the orbit.

As Titov began making another crossing of Africa, Europe and Asia, he transmitted more official greetings to people around the world.

Titov was scheduled to have lunch at 12:42, during the 3rd orbit, but, by his own admission, he had absolutely no appetite. So, he limited himself to a tube of black currant juice. "There was nothing special about it and you can drink it freely," Titov recalled, "When I opened it... one drop escaped and was floating right in front of my nose. I first caught it with a cap of the tube and then drank it."

During the second and the third orbit, Titov was able to talk to a ground station in Khabarovsk, but all his attempts to call Moscow were fruitless, even though he heard telegraph signals of a Moscow station. He also attempted to measure time between moments the spacecraft exists shadow on different orbits, enabling him to calculate the orbital period of around one hour and 29 minutes.

At 13:20, Titov conducted a hearing test, which went without problems. At 13:52, he measured his heart beat, which was 76. During the 5th orbit, Titov repeated his "vestibular system" tests, which apparently went without problems.

During the 6th orbit, ground controllers asked Titov about the pressure in the attitude control system, which he found to be 110 (atmospheres), even though, he never used the thrusters after he had turned off the system with a pressure of 120 atmospheres. Titov suspected some minor siphoning of pressurized gas.

On the 6th orbit, at 17:00, Titov was supposed to have a dinner. However, after eight hours in space, he still had zero appetite, probably as a result of motion sickness. He forced a tube of pate into his mouth, after which he felt more nausea. Fortunately, he had another manual control exercise scheduled during the 7th orbit, which apparently distracted him from the worsening symptoms.

Although the Soviet sources did insist that Titov was in excellent health during the flight, they did admit that his vestibular system had experienced "some changes manifested in unpleasant feelings." The Soviet press also said that the temperature aboard the spacecraft varied from 10 to 25 degrees C during the mission. (505)

At 17:30, at the brink of sunrise, Titov activated the attitude control system once again. At the time, the pressure indicator was showing 110 atmospheres in the thruster tanks. Remembering instructions not to deplete his pressurized propellant below 100 atmospheres, Titov skipped the U-turn maneuver to put the spacecraft tail first, even though he saw Earth's surface running toward him in the Vzor window, confirming the head-first flight. Still, he placed the spacecraft into correct vertical orientation within around 20 degrees. Behind the window, he saw Gulf of Mexico and the American coast. He tried to take some photographs and look into his small telescope, but with mixed results.

Titov deactivated the attitude control system at 17:55 with pressure dropping to 102 atmospheres, even though it would later climb to 110, probably as a result of heating.

At 18:30, before his historic nap in space, Titov used the toilet for the first and last time during his mission, another first and space, which Soviet press preferred not to advertise around the world. However, it was a great relief for life support engineers and doctors, whom Titov assured without any hesitation that to his surprise the "flow" was as easy as on Earth. (509)

"I felt not exactly perfect but decent enough (to go to bed)," Titov remembered. However, when he closed window shutters to block bright sun, he got symptoms of vomiting. "I got a hygiene bag, where I put my breakfast and dinner and hid it in the locker, after which I went to sleep."

According to the flight program, Titov was suppose to sleep from 18:30 on August 6 to 02:00 on August 7. While trying to fall asleep, he discovered his hands floating above his body, so he tried to hold them by the safety belts. (507)

Titov later said that falling asleep in weightlessness was much easier than in the simulator on Earth, where there was always an urge to change the body position. Still, he woke up several times in the middle of his sleeping period, once during the 10th and 11th orbit, the last time, just 15 minutes before the end of the rest period during the 13th orbit. He then fall asleep again and woke up 35 minutes late. However, ground controllers, apparently seeing normal pulse of the pilot, did not sound any alarms. (507) As usual, they gave him latest data for the Globus update. Yet, Korolev's associate, Boris Chertok, remembered a mounting nervousness at mission control and the chief-designer's swift readiness to blame military personnel at ground control stations for "oversleeping" communication sessions. (27)

During the 17th and the final full orbit of the flight, Korolev and Smirnov personally talked to Titov and asked him whether he was ready for final operations. After some confusion over the radio, Titov responded that everything was good for landing. He stowed his telescope, the camera and the flight journal and began monitoring the automated reentry sequence.


Return to Earth

On the morning of August 7, during the 17th orbit, the automated system oriented the Vostok-2 for the braking maneuver, which was initiated around 09:57 Moscow Time and lasted 40 seconds. Titov expected the separation between his reentry capsule and the instrument module some 10 seconds after the engine shutdown and he apparently heard the explosion of pyrotechnic devices cutting metallic straps, which tied the ball-shaped capsule to the instrument module. Titov reported the normal separation to ground control, however a moment later, he discovered that lights on the control console in the cabin, which were powered from the instrument module, had still remained on. Clearly, the separation did not happen. Titov knew about the problems that Gagarin had experienced during his reentry and assumed that he had a similar glitch. Fortunately, the tumbling, which followed the engine shutdown on Gagarin's Vostok, did not take place. (509)

Unknown to Titov, the separation between his capsule and the instrument compartment did take place, however a multi-cable umbilical line between two compartments apparently failed to break off as scheduled. It explains why Titov felt the separation jolt, but did not see control lights go out. The electric current was still flowing to the control panel via umbilical cables of the service module. Ironically, decades later, this situation was mistakenly attributed to Gagarin's flight in countless documentaries, books and articles. In fact, a similar situation did happen in unmanned test flights of the Vostok spacecraft.

The descent trajectory of the Vostok-2 mission largely emulated that of Gagarin's, with the braking maneuver near Africa, the reentry over the Mediterranean Sea and the landing near the city of Saratov in Southern Russia. As Vostok-2 spacecraft entered the atmosphere, with its two main components still loosely connected by the umbilical cable, Titov left blinds of the cabin windows open "out of curiosity," as he later explained it. He saw ominous orange glow appear behind the glass and later pieces of melting antennas zoom by.

According to Titov, the separation between the reentry capsule and the instrument module finally took place around 10:07, followed by the chaotic tumbling of his cabin in various directions. Flames were now raging behind the window tearing pieces of thermal insulation off the spacecraft. A layer of sooth started slowly crawling across the window glass. As capsule approached maximum loads, Titov's vision became blurry and tears started flowing. Fortunately, after few dozen seconds the pressure subsided and he could breath freely again.

Following the reentry, Titov ejected from the spacecraft. A moment before the catapult rocketed him out of the cabin, Titov was distracted by a peeling piece of interior insulation, which was probably torn off after the jettisoning of the hatch. He slightly turned his head away from a prescribed ejection position and the following jolt of the ejection caused his nose to hit the helmet interior. As he soared away from his capsule on the ejection seat, several drops of blood from his injured nose fell onto the glass of the helmet. After several wild turns caused by the messy opening of the stabilization parachute, the seat started smooth descent toward cloudy mist below with only few breaks revealing the ground. The next jolt thrown Titov away from his seat and the main parachute opened next. This time his feet were hit, apparently by the separation of the emergency supply kit. (509)

Titov then pierced the clouds and finally saw the ground below -- fields, a railway with a moving freight train, a river, villages. His descent seemed smooth until, suddenly, a backup parachute came out and hanged below, repeating the situation in Gagarin's landing. To prevent tangling in the spare chute with his feet, Titov tried to hold it with his hand as far away as possible. As he descended to an altitude of one kilometer, the spare parachute started unfurling. In process, it also began spiraling around the main parachute almost all the way to its canopy. All Titov's attempts to get the spare parachute out of the way were fruitless, until the second canopy finally opened.

In the last hundreds of meters before the ground, Titov struggled to control the parachutes in the incoming wind, which rotated him wildly. He saw his capsule land not far from the railway line, quickly approached by a car and by many people. To his surprise, the wind carried him toward the railway line, as a Moscow-bound train was rumbling just below him.

With the final gust of wind, he hit the ground with his back on the field, just few dozen meters from the railway and just seconds after the train had passed. His head hit the helmet again and he made a somersault in the plowed dirt, as pain was ringing in his ears. After being dragged for around 15 meters, Titov finally managed to detach his parachutes. (509)

Several agricultural workers arrived just in time and helped Titov to get out of the spacesuit. Titov then took a ride on one of two cars to his landing capsule some five kilometers away. Surrounded by cheerful crowds, Titov recovered his journal and a film from the capsule and had some water.

According to the official statistics, Titov's landing took place at 10:11 near the village of Krasny Kut in the Saratov Region. Vostok-2 mission lasted 25 hours 18 minutes. The spacecraft covered 703,143 kilometers. (505) When his backup Nikolaev asked Titov about the flight, Titov reportedly replied: "Andruykha, train your vestibular system!"

On Aug. 8, 1961, Titov reported his experience to the State Commission overseeing the flight.

As previously with Gagarin, numerous propaganda events had followed the fight of Vostok-2, beginning with the official meeting of the cosmonaut on August 9 at the Vnukovo airport near Moscow, the organized demonstration on the Red Square, naturally in the presence of Khrushchev flanked by Gagarin and Titov and the reception in the Kremlin's Palace the same evening. It was concluded with fireworks over the capital and other major Soviet cities.

Along with many awards and privileges for Titov and his family members, the Soviet of Ministers decreed to pay Titov 15,000 rubles from its reserve fund -- an unprecedented amount of money by Soviet standards. (465)

On Sept. 11, 1961, when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Academy of Sciences conducted a press-conference on the results of the Vostok-2 mission, Titov turned 26 years old. He still remains the youngest space traveler.

Unfortunately, the descent module of Vostok-2 was later destroyed in a botched aircraft drop test during the development of the Voskhod spacecraft.

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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: August 6, 2016

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Titov likely photographed during training prior to Vostok-2 mission.

Titov trains to use the flight control console of the Vostok spacecraft.


In Sochi, Crimea, Korolev (left), Yazdovsky and Kamanin hotly debated the possible duration of the second Vostok mission.

Soon after Gagarin's flight, Korolev met with the group of cosmonauts at a Black Sea resort of Sochi. At that time, he disclosed to Titov that he would fly a day-long mission.



A meeting of the State Commission before the launch of Vostok-2 on Aug. 6, 1961. The chairman of the launch commission, L. Smirnov, is on the right from Korolev (standing).

Launch vehicle with Vostok-2 spacecraft is installed on the launch pad.



Following a tradition established on the eve of the Gagarin's launch, Nikolaev and Titov (left), accompanied by Korolev, visited Pad 1, where they met with military specialists who were preparing Vostok-2 for launch.

Titov undergoes final medical checks during suiting up operations on the morning of August 6, 1961.


Nikolaev in August 1961, when he served as a backup pilot for the Vostok-2 mission.




Titov's official portraits in spacesuit.



Titov and Nikolaev try space food during a bus ride to the launch pad on Aug. 6, 1961.

A still from the footage likely showing Sergei Korolev on the launch pad in Tyuratam during final preparations for the launch of Vostok-2.

Titov bids farewell to his colleagues on the launch pad.


Final steps at the top of the service gantry toward the hatch of Vostok-2.

Preparations for launch.

Vostok-2 lifts off on August 6, 1961, at 08:59 Moscow Time.

Titov appears on TV at ground control center soon after reaching orbit.


Titov on the TV screen in mission control during the flight of Vostok-2.

Titov working with a camera during the flight.


Views of the Earth from Vostok-2.

Titov at the landing site.

A photo apparently showing descent module of the Vostok-2 spacecraft at the landing site.

Titov shortly after landing on August 7, 1961.


Titov reports about his successful landing.


Titov aboard aircraft on the way home from the landing site on Aug. 7, 1961.


Titov, still in his flight suit, emerges from the aircraft shortly after his landing on Aug. 7, 1961.

Titov with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (right) and Gagarin (center).


Titov with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev

Titov (left) and Gagarin.

Titov (right) and Vladimir Komarov.