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Vostok Program

Vostok spacecraft, Mercury program, Soviet space program, Soviet leaders, Nikita Khrushchev

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Vostok Program, series of piloted spacecraft launched in the early 1960s by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics(USSR). The program (vostok is Russian for “east”) grew from the dreams of Sergey Korolyev, the founder of the Soviet space program and the head of the country’s leading aerospace design bureau, and from the Cold War space race between the United States and the USSR. A Vostok spacecraft was the first to carry a human into space.

The space race began in 1957 with the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik 1, by the USSR. The world reacted so strongly to the launch that Soviet leaders, including Nikita Khrushchev, saw opportunities to win Cold War political battles by making history in space. Later that year Korolyev launched a dog into space aboard Sputnik 2. United States leaders suspected that the Soviets were preparing to launch piloted spacecraft, so the United States established its first manned space program, the Mercury program, in 1958. This move drove the Soviets to accelerate their plans for piloted spacecraft.

The USSR rushed to design a spacecraft for piloted flights. They chose to modify a spy satellite to serve as the basis of the Vostok program. The USSR tested the Vostok spacecraft under the name Korabl-Sputnik and launched six piloted Vostok flights. All were successful.

The Vostok program's goals were mostly political, but its technical and scientific aims included testing basic spacecraft systems, such as heat shields and life support; showing that humans could survive launch into space, reentry to Earth’s atmosphere, and landing; and showing that humans could withstand weightlessness for several days.

Contributors

Portree, David S. F., B.A., M.S.

Freelance writer and space historian. Author of "Walking to Olympus: An EVA Chronology".



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