Photo Of The Day: Happy Cosmonauts Day

Today marks the 51st anniversary of manned space travel, and if you happen to be in a former Soviet country, you may be celebrating Cosmonautics Day. On April 12, 1961, 27-year-old Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first human in space, orbiting the Earth for nearly two hours. The USSR beat the US in the space race by just three weeks, and two years later, Russia would send the first woman to space. Flickr user (and new father, congrats!) AlphaTangoBravo snapped this picture of a Russian Cosmonauts poster he picked up in Moscow. You can celebrate the anniversary of space travel, or Yuri’s Night, at parties around the world.

Have any travel photos commemorating historic travel dates? Add ’em to the Gadling Flickr pool for another Photo of the Day.

Fifty years ago today: youngest person in space throws up

Fifty years ago today, Gherman Titov became the second man to go into orbit. The first was Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union on 12 April 1961. Titov was also Soviet, and flew aboard the Vostok-2 mission.

While Gagarin launched into enduring fame and became one of my personal heroes, Titov has been largely forgotten. That’s a shame, because his flight included a number of records and advanced our knowledge of conditions in zero gravity.

Unlike Gagarin’s single-orbit flight, which was largely to see whether the Soviet Union could get a man into space, Vostok-2 on 6 August 1961 was intended to test how well someone could deal with zero gravity for 24 hours. Major Titov was chosen for the task. He was only 25 years old and is still the youngest person ever to have gone into space.

It didn’t all go well. Early in the flight Titov became space sick and while trying to eat lunch on his sixth orbit around the Earth he threw up. The effects of this in a small capsule in zero gravity must have been unpleasant to say the least. Titov was made of tough stuff, though, and took the manual control of the capsule for a time and also snapped a picture of the Earth from space, the first human being to do so. Ten-and-a-half hours into the flight he felt good enough to fall asleep.

That’s probably the most amazing part of the story. I can’t imagine actually falling asleep when Earth is shining outside my window. Perhaps the adreneline rush finally wore off and Titov conked out due to sheer exhaustion. He slept for eight hours. When he woke up he still didn’t feel a hundred percent but was able to keep his breakfast down. After 17 orbits he reentered the atmosphere and safely landed.

One interesting footnote to the flight is that the Soviets made all the radio frequencies between Vostok-2 and ground control public, so that the whole world could listen in as the capsule passed overhead and could track it using directional antennae. This kept anyone from claiming the flight was faked. Conspiracy theorists have been saying ignorant things about the space program for a long time now.

For more information and some cool images, check out the great website Space History Notes and their article on Vostok-2.

Image of Maj. Titov and Vostok 2 patch courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Space race brings trip around the Moon by 2015

We’ve heard of suborbital flights being booked by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, those have been in the works for quite some time. So have various plans for a replacement vehicle for the retiring space shuttles. Now, the news about space travel brings us to the Moon with a flight around the moon available coming up as soon as 2015 says one company already in the business.

Space Adventures based in Virginia is the only company to have booked and offered commercial space travel, delivering astronauts to the International Space Station.

“The moon holds a special place in all of our hearts. It’s a symbol of the space future that humanity wishes for, a symbol of our curiosity, and something that we see every night. When the private moon mission launches, the eyes of the world will truly be upon those people, and it will truly be an extraordinary event,” Eric Anderson of Space Adventures told International Business News.

The price tag?

A round-trip for two looks to be right at $150 million.

Back in 2009, Gadling reported on a NASA focused on commercial space travel with a plan to spend $50 million of economic stimulus cash from the feds into putting the average traveler into space. Then, commercial space travel was not much more than a dream or something for a “weird news” column.

Now, as plans develop on several fronts, space travel may very well be within reach for everyday people…who have $150 million to spare.

Flickr photo by *L*u*z*A

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Forgotten space pioneer: 50th anniversary Alan Shepard’s historic flight

Fifty years ago today Alan B. Shepard Jr., became the first American in space when he flew in the Freedom 7 mission. He got 116.5 miles up and his flight lasted 15 minutes, 28 seconds. He made history, but has been generally forgotten.

Why? Because he was the second man in space. Yuri Gagarin made it into space 23 days earlier and won the second round of the US-Soviet space race. The Soviets won the first round too, when they got the first satellite into orbit in 1957.

Neither man achieved full orbit, but they did prove you could survive the trip and they paved the way for future space missions. Both deserve to be remembered.

NASA has an excellent interactive webpage about the mission and the capsule he flew in is on display at the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Shepard was an alum (Class of 1945) so needless to say they’re pretty proud of him over there.

Shepard later landed on the Moon in the Apollo 14 mission and drew laughs and criticism when he played golf in low gravity. You can see the Apollo 14 command module at the John F. Kennedy Space Center.

[Photo courtesy NASA]

Who is winning the commercial space race?

Every so often we like to bring our readers up to date regarding the future of commercial space flight.

As you know, a number of entrepreneurs are trying to cash in on the potential billion dollar industry and are currently in an all-out-race to corner the market.

So, who is winning the race?

Portfolio Magazine has kindly published a report card this month rating the major players in the field and detailing the various problems they’ve encountered and the current risk factor involved with each of their products. Sadly, two of the five companies are labeled as “very risky,” receiving four out of four danger rockets in their score. Surprisingly, all five hope to be up and running explosion-free within the next decade. The following are the anticipated operational dates–they’ll be here before you know it, so start saving your money now.

Bigelow Aerospace: 2012
Blue Origin: 2010
SpaceX: 2010
Armadillo Aerospace: “in the next several years”
Virgin Galactic: 2009