Second human in orbit

Yuri Gagarin may have been the first person to orbit the Earth in space, but Gherman Titov was the first to orbit the Earth more than once, the first to pilot a spacecraft, and the first to throw up in space.

NASA/Asif Siddiqi derivative work: Yekrats / Public domain

I don’t mean to knock Yuri Gagarin, but in his landmark first spaceflight he was essentially ballast. That made sense at the time: no-one knew what would happen when a human was shot into space. Would they even stay conscious in zero gravity? Go loopy and try to ram the Moon? Safer to have the whole flight controlled from the ground, or automatically by on-board systems. Vostok 1, Gagarin’s spacecraft, did have manual controls but they were locked. Oddly, he was given an envelope with the code to unlock the controls – and then the head of cosmonaut training told him the code anyway.

The code was 1, 2, 5. I have the same code on my luggage.

Anyway, when Gagarin was selected to be the first person in space, the other candidate was Gherman Titov. And Titov got to go into space himself four months after Gagarin, and his spaceflight was much more eventful.

First, Gagarin went around the Earth once, and was off the ground for less than two hours. Titov’s flight orbited the planet seventeen times, and his mission lasted for more than a day. That meant he got to sleep in orbit – the first time anyone had slept off our world. I don’t know how he managed it, but Titov slept for a full eight hours, one third of his mission.

Both Gagarin and Titov ate while in orbit, but Titov was the first person to throw up. Their food was turned into paste and put in tubes – Gagarin had liver and beef paste, with chocolate sauce for dessert – but I cannot find exactly what Titov was eating. Some kind of soup, apparently. He brought it back up because of space-sickness. Like sea-sickness, but for space.

(Side note: apparently motion sickness comes from the discrepancy between your perceived motion and your actual motion. On Earth that means you feel like you’re moving but you don’t see yourself and your environment moving – because you’re in a car, for example. In space it’s the opposite: you see that you’re moving but you don’t feel any motion because of weightlessness. The end result is the same in either case: nausea and, in the case of Titov, vomit.)

Other firsts and records from Titov: he took the controls for a while and manually piloted the spacecraft; he took manual photos from space; at 25 years old he’s still the youngest person ever to go into space.

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