Last night, I joined the British Interplanetary Society for their Yuri’s Night, celebrating 51 years since Gagarin’s flight. I highly recommend watching this film, First Orbit, which was screened there and introduced by the film’s producer/director Chris Riley and the film’s editor Stephen Slater. When a new windowed cupola was added to the International Space Station (ISS) in early 2010 it got Chris thinking. “I began to wonder if we could film a new view of what Gagarin would have seen fifty years ago,” he recalls. It was quite fascinating to hear how they tried to capture orbital elements of the ISS which would achieve the same “sort” of track and view Gagarin would have seen, along with the time of day – a very difficult feat. To do this, a combination of mathematics, orbital mechanics an the help of a friendly astronaut was required.
After a brief test shoot in November 2010, conducted by NASA’s expedition 25 astronaut Doug Wheelock, European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli filmed most of the footage for the project in late December 2010 and early January 2011, showing the Earth as Gagarin would have seen it almost exactly fifty years before. Thankfully Paolo was up for the challenge while he was in space. Despite apparently not cleaning the cupola window enough, I think he did a very good job!
The film fought to obtain the original radio communication recordings between Yuri Gagarin (code name “Cedar”), Sergei Korolev (code name “Sunset-1) and ground control during his flight, with mixed radio reports from radio reports from Russia’s Radio Moscow and the BBC. This audio is laid on top of filmed footage of the Earth shot from the ISS. From the moment of launch when Gagarin shouts “Поехали!” (“Lets go!”), it is fascinating to hear his experiences throughout much of his flight. See the trailer for the documentary here:
Watching First Orbit you realise how very small we really are on this blue marble of ours and how very thin our atmosphere appears from orbit; the strange and wonderful phenomena in orbit, the features on the surface, the glorious stars in the dark of night – the list is endless. It all makes you realise how precious our planet is; how when you step back that far from Earth, why we should continue to abuse and destroy the beauty of our beloved planet.
I felt compelled to “tweet” Paolo (@astro_paolo), to congratulate him on his filming. Had he not agreed to do this, I might not have sat there watching what he watched, what Yuri may have watched, to be sharing this moment with them. In fact, if you want to meet the astronaut, Paolo Nespoli, who filmed most of this footage and have a free weekend, he will be giving a talk in London at the Royal Aeronautical Society on Sat 28th April. It is free and open to all but you need to reserve a place (here). I hope to go along and ask him about his experiences in orbit and about his filming of First Orbit.
For all the great accomplishments we achieved, for all the great science we do and the technological advancements we have made, we should never take for granted what an incredible human experience exploration really is, and what a huge risk Yuri took that day, 51 years ago, taking the human race that step further than ever before.
I was told of a book called “Starman”, a book all about Yuri Gagarin. I hope to search this out. Apparently the bits of radio contact are in the book. Gagarin’s quotes are perhaps less well-known as the Apollo astronauts, but I thought I would leave you with this:
“Облетев Землю в корабле-спутнике, я увидел, как прекрасна наша планета. Люди, будем хранить и приумножать эту красоту, а не разрушать её!”
Or if you don’t understand Russian…. ;p
“Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!”
Such beautiful words from an inspiring man.