As Yuri A. Gagarin left the launch platform on human life’s maiden voyage into space the Soviets knew if they succeeded, the world was about to change. After all, if a man could survive in space, the universe was truly ours to behold, and explore. Space travel would actually become possible, in time of course. The minds behind the launch of the Vostok spacecraft had done quite a lot of research, and quite a lot of testing, but in reality they had no clue if a man could survive in outer space. They were trying to send a man off of Earth.
(A picture of Yuri in his Cosmonaut gear)
If anyone was qualified among the Russians for this daring, and awe inspiring venture, it was Yuri. He was a citizen that modeled the Soviet way of life, and was recorded to serve the USSR in many fields. Raised on a collective farm, he embodied the every day working class family, and serving as a pilot in the Soviet Air Force his dedication to the country, and the people, was well established. Among the 20 candidates selected for the Vostok space flight program, all but three of the candidates said that he deserved to make this first trip into space.
This mission into space opened the door, not merely into a new world, but into the universe. Yuri’s flight would eventually be recorded to have 108 minutes in space, but nonetheless, the Soviets had put a man in space. What started as a glorious victory for the USSR, putting the first man into space, would interestingly enough help ease the tensions between the USA and Russia as time passed. If the Soviets had not succeeded in this mission, the International Space Station would never have been created, and old tensions may never have been swept away. Moments before Vostok 1 left the ground Yuri was quoted with saying a simple, “let’s go.” and frankly, I can’t wait to see where we’ll go next.
As Stalin lay dying in Moscow due to internal hemorrhaging in March of 1953, the world was changing. The Presidium of the USSR was planning it’s next step. Since Lenin had died, Stalin had run the show and anyone who had gotten in his was had been removed or run over. What would they do without him? How would they handle this vacuum of power? Would they separate his job into more specialized positions, or would they leave his legacy in tact?
Eventually, the Presidium came to the conclusion that three men should fulfill their passing leaders position, and interestingly enough, all three of the men selected had fallen out of Stalin’s favor. These three were Georgii Malenkov, Lavrentii Beria, and Nikita Khrushchev. Each taking part in what was referred to as a “collective leadership” would bring about many changes in the Soviet way, at least until they were ousted or executed by another.
More importantly though, Josef Stalin was dying and all of Moscow, and most of the USSR was… mourning? This man had held the helm, during some of the most cruel and logistically fueled times in human history and had encouraged more than one massacre himself. Under his rule, for a good period of time might I add, basically random executions were taking place, just to keep the people on their toes. He approved of the extremely dysfunctional collective farm idea, and encouraged it’s implication strongly. He “may have” intentionally caused one of the worst famines in Eastern European history just to wipe out tons of people and reenforce Soviet rule. Yet, when this man is dies, thousands of people flock to see him one last time before he is entombed beside Lenin? Yes, Stalin did a great deal of good for the people, but at what price did that good come? Did he really better the lives of these people? Did his actions actually save lives, and improve the nation? Many of his actions easily fall under the definition of Crimes Against Humanity, and that’s no small feat. Yet, the people loved him. He led them headfirst into some rocky seas, but he brought them through. He made many sacrifices in a cold and calculated manner, but in doing so he preserved the people as a whole.
Stalin was the face of an Empire, and was the symbol of an Era in Soviet history. On March 4, 1953 that Era passed away as Stalin was entombed and the three new leaders took their spots in the Soviet nation, and history atop the country Stalin had made. These three had some mighty big shoes to fill, and the world was watching.