One of the signs accompanying the Vostok spacecraft's ejection seat. It reads
The Big Lie
The International Aeronautical Federation
had a strict rule - a pilot setting a new world aviation record had to land in
his craft. The Soviet leadership worried that Gagarin's ejection from Vostok 1
might deprive them of their record, so they lied to the world - they reported
that Gagarin had landed in his capsule.
According to the Soviets, only Gagarin landed in his Vostok - cosmonauts Titov
(Vostok 2), Nikolayev (Vostok 3), Popovich (Vostok 4), Bykovsky (Vostok 5), and
Tereskova (Vostok 6) all ejected. This led Western experts to suspect that
Gagarin had also ejected. The Soviets reluctantly confirmed this during the
1970s, at last giving the world a true picture of the historic first manned
What Really Happened
On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1 became the first human being to
orbit Earth. The next day, he told a special State Commission about his
108-minute flight. He spoke of ejecting from the capsule during descent to
"When the g-loads came to a complete halt, which apparently coincided with
going through the sound barrier, you could hear the air whistling [past the
falling capsule] ... I was waiting to eject. At that moment, at an altitude of
about 7000 meters ... there was a loud [bang], and I was ejected. I began to
descend on the main parachute. I was again turned toward the Volga [River].
In parachute training, we had jumped many times right over this same spot ... I
looked the area over, and I could see where the [Vostok capsule] had landed.
There was a white parachute, and next to it the scorched, black sphere.
... I saw the ground coming. My feet hit with a "plunk." The field was well
plowed, and very soft ... I didn't even feel the landing ... I looked myself
over - I was all in one piece. That meant I was alive and well.
... I went up a knoll and saw a woman and a little girl coming toward me ... I
saw the woman slow her pace, and the little girl broke away ... I then began to
wave my arms and yell, "I'm one of yours, a Soviet, don't be afraid ..." It's
hard to walk in a space suit, but I was doing it anyway ... I went up to her
and said that I was a Soviet and that I had come from space."