In February of 1962, the United States put John Glenn into orbit. This prompted Soviet leadership to suddenly asked Chief Designer Korolev to launch the next space spectacular promptly. To make this mission truly spectacular the Soviets decided to launch a group flight of two Vostoks lasting up to four days in orbit.
Vostok 4 on Pad
Popovich in Orbit
Nikolaev & Popovich
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Following the successful suborbital missions of Allan Shepard and Gus Grissom, NASA believed the Mercury capsule was ready for an orbital mission. But, there was a problem, the Redstone booster did not have the power to place the Mercury capsule into orbit. The Atlas booster had the power to put the capsule in orbit but not the confidence of NASA. By September of 1961 Four launches of the mercury-atlas had been made with only a 50 percent success rate…
“Dear friends, you who are close to me, and you whom I do not know, fellow Russians, and people of all countries and all continents: in a few minutes a powerful space vehicle will carry me into the distant realm of space. What can I tell you in these last minutes before the launch? My whole life appears to me as one beautiful moment. All that I previously lived through and did, was lived through and done for the sake of this moment.” Yuri Gagarin prior to launch of Vostok 1.
When the 20 Cosmonaut candidates were asked to anonymously vote for which candidate they would like to see fly first, all but three chose Gagarin. The consensus was, Gagarin was very focused, and demanding of himself and others when necessary.
For the Soviet Union, 1960 was a mixed bag of success and failure as it struggled for new achievements in space exploration. The main driving force was to be the first nation to launch a man into space. An achievement their adversary, the United States, also desperately wanted.
While the Mercury 7 were fulfilling their roles as symbols of space exploration, Korolev once again was offering the real thing. He now prepared to undertake the most demanding mission yet. The mission that would accomplish the next step in Korolev’s program of lunar exploration. He would attempt to photograph the far side of the moon.
The launch vehicle for the Luna E-1 series was a modified R7 named Vostok. The Vostok had three stages. The first and second stage were the standard R-7 which we covered in Episode 9. A 5.1 meter long by 2.4 meter diameter third stage was added to the top of the R-7. The third stage weighed 1472 kg and was capable of delivering 54.5 kiloNewtons or 12,252 lbs of thrust. This was the probes booster stage that gave it enough speed to escape Earth’s gravity.