Sixty Years Ago Today: Yuri Gagarin Becomes The First Human In Space

As those of us with an interest in space exploration look forward with excitement towards new Lunar and Martian exploration, it’s worth casting our minds back for a moment because today marks a special anniversary. Sixty years ago on April 12th 1961, the Vostok 1 craft with its pilot Yuri Gagarin was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in what is now Kazakhstan. During the 108-minute mission he successfully completed an orbit of the Earth before parachuting from his craft after re-entry and landing on a farm near Engels, in the Saratov oblast to the south of Moscow.

Yuri Gagarin

In doing so he became the first human in space as well as the first to orbit the Earth, he became a hero to the Soviet and Russian people as well as the rest of the world, and scored a major victory for the Soviet space programme by beating the Americans to the prize. All the astronauts and cosmonauts who have been to space since then stand upon the shoulders of those first corps of pioneering pilots who left the atmosphere alone in their capsules, but it is Gagarin’s name that stands tallest among them.

In Russia the anniversary is being celebrated with particular fervour with special events, TV coverage, and a visit by President Putin to the landing site, and from space by the Russian cosmonauts in orbit on the ISS. Meanwhile space agencies closer to home are remaining tight-lipped, with NASA failing to mention that particular objective for ISS Expedition 65 crewmembers.

We consider that the politics of the Cold War should not be allowed to detract on our side of the world from the achievement of Gagarin and the engineers and scientists who placed him in orbit, thus we prefer to tell the whole story when dealing with space history. If you’d like to read a bit more Vostok history then we’d like to point you at the story of another Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.

Header image: Нина ПЕТРИЩЕВА, CC BY-SA 4.0.

This Mini Soviet Micro Will Have Astounding Attention To Detail

As the retro craze has gone mainstream, we’ve grown used to seeing “mini” versions of classic hardware, preloaded with a selection of games and ready for a wallow in nostalgia. Unfortunately for fans of the less well known platforms, the only devices to get the mini treatment so far are popular ones such as the Nintendo consoles, or the Commodore 64. This is something [Svofski] is aiming to change for one classic micro, by producing a mini version of the Soviet Vector-06c. And unlike the Commodore with its fake keyboard, this one will work in its entirety and have a fully-functional keyboard.

It’s a build that’s not finished yet. But in this case that’s no bad thing, because such is the extreme attention to detail that you’ll want to stick around and watch it unfold. The electronics will come courtesy of an FPGA recreation of the hardware, while the Vector’s unique keyboard is being recreated in miniature, with keycaps designed to fit a particular Alps switch. These are 3D-printed, painted, and then marked with their decals using stencils carefully etched from copper sheet. Even if you have no interest in the Vector-06c, these techniques could find a place in so many other projects.

The wonderfully ingenious and diverse world of Soviet technology has found its way onto these pages many times over the years, including at least one other microcomputer, and even a supercomputer. If your interests extend behind the Iron Curtain though, you might wish to read our colleague [Voja Antonic]’s account of hacking in Communist Yugoslavia.

The Electronics Of Cold War Nightmares

It is a good bet that if you look around you, you’ll be able to find at least one smoke detector in sight. If not, there’s probably one not too far away. Why not? Fires happen and you’d like to know about a fire even if you are sleeping or alert others if you are away. During the cold war, there were other things that people didn’t want to sleep through. [Msylvain59] tears down two examples: a Soviet GSP-11 nerve agent detector and a Polish RS-70 radiation alarm. You can see both videos, below.

In all fairness, the GSP-11 is clearly not meant for consumer use. It actually uses a test strip that changes colors and monitors the color change. Presumably, the people operating it were wearing breathing gear because the machine could take quite a while to provide a positive output. Inside reminded us of a film processing machine, which isn’t too far off.

The radiation monitor looks more like a miniature version of an old floor-standing radio. The case design, the thick-traced, single-sided, hand-drawn printed wiring board, and the –by today’s standards — huge parts within all contribute to making this look like a piece of radio gear from the 1970s or even earlier.

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Salyut: How We Learned To Make Space Stations

When you think about space stations, which ones come to mind first? You might think Skylab, the International Space Station (ISS), or maybe Russia’s Mir. But before any of those took to the heavens, there was Salyut.

Russia’s Salyut 1 was humankind’s first space station. The ensuing Salyut program lasted fifteen years, from 1971 to 1986, and the lessons learned from this remarkable series of experiments are still in use today in the International Space Station (ISS). The program was so successful at a time when the US manned space program was dormant that one could say that the Russians lost the Moon but won the space race.

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Soviet Portable Scopemeter Teardown

Browsing YouTube may prove to be your largest destroyer of productive time outside of Hackaday, once you have started looking at assorted Lincolnshire plumbers or young Ukrainians doing dangerous stunts it’s easy to lose an hour with very little to show for it. There is so much to divert our attention, it’s a wonder that any of us ever make anything!

So to ensure you lose a further quarter hour today, we’d like to bring you [Jesper Broe]’s demonstration and teardown of his latest oscilloscope. This might seem unpromising when we tell you it’s a single-trace model with a bandwidth of 10MHz, but don’t give up. This is a RIMEDA C1-112, a portable instrument made in Lithuania when the country was part of the Soviet Union, and its party piece is that it contains a digital multimeter with a vector display using the oscilloscope CRT.

We’re shown the compact device being unpacked, then put through its paces as an oscilloscope. It gives useful results above 10MHz, but it is visibly losing amplitude and eventually it has trouble triggering as the frequency increases. Interestingly all the controls work in the opposite direction to the ones you will be used to, anticlockwise rotation increases rather than decreases. Then we’re shown the multimeter function, which is compared to a modern DMM and found to be still pretty accurate after nearly three decades.

The ‘scope’s lid is then removed, and we see something of the logic boards that produce the digital display. A host of Soviet K155 series logic ICs are at the heart of it, and at the end of the video we’re shown a period review in Russian with a glimpse at the waveforms they produce to vector draw the figures.

Take a look at the video below the break, we’re sure you’ll agree it’s an instrument that many of us would still find useful today.

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Stolen Tech: The Soviet Shuttle

The US Space Shuttle program is dead and buried. The orbiters can now be found in their permanent homes in the Air and Space Museum, Kennedy Space Center, and the California Science Center. The launch pads used by the shuttles over a career of 135 launches are being repurposed for vehicles from SpaceX and the Space Launch System. Yes, some of the hardware and technology will be reused for NASA’s next generation of heavy launch vehicles, but the orbiter – a beautiful brick of a space plane – is forever grounded.

The Space Shuttle was a product of the cold war, and although the orbiters themselves were never purely military craft, the choices made during the design of the Space Shuttle were heavily influenced by the US Air Force. The Soviet Union was keenly aware the United States was building a ‘space bomber’ and quickly began development of their own manned spaceplane.

While this Soviet Shuttle would not be as successful as its American counterpart — the single completed craft would only fly once, unmanned — the story of this spaceplane is one of the greatest tales of espionage ever told. And it ends with a spaceship that was arguably even more capable than its American twin.

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