One of the signs accompanying the Vostok spacecraft's ejection seat. It reads
Necessary for Safe Landing
The Vostok-type capsule displayed here includes a Vostok ejection seat
positioned as it would have been at the moment of ejection. The seat blasted
the cosmonaut free of the capsule automatically at an altitude of about 21,000
feet. Seat and cosmonaut briefly tumbled, then a parachute opened on the
seat's top to stabilize descent. Moments later, the cosmonaut separated from
the seat and opened a personal parachute
for final descent to Earth.
The Vostok landing system did not permit a soft landing. To help make the
Vostok capsule light enough for the R-7 rocket to launch into orbit, its
parachute was small and its ejection seat included no shock absorbers. Cutting
corners on these systems also simplified Vostok, which Korolev hoped would help
ensure its readiness ahead of NASA's Mercury. Any cosmonaut who attempted to
land in a Vostok capsule would have been injured or even killed, so Gagarin and
the other five Vostok cosmonauts ejected during its final descent to Earth.
The capsule beat the cosmonaut to the ground by several minutes.
[Caption of left-hand graphic] Illustration of descending Vostok capsule as the
cosmonaut ejects. The cosmonaut's parachute can be seen stowed at the top of
[Caption of right-hand graphic] Cosmonaut in a Vostok ejector seat being
launched from an aircraft during a training exercise.
Illustration and photo: "The
Soviet Manned Space Program"