From 1962 he served as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet, but later returned to "Star City", the cosmonaut facility, where he worked on designs for a reusable spacecraft.
According to various accounts, Gagarin was considered by Kremlin officials to be too valuable a public relations asset to expose to the risk of another space flight, and was not among cosmonauts in contention to fly on subsuquent Vostok and Voskhod missions.
(In the U.S., similar concerns reportedly were voiced by high NASA officials about John Glenn, possibly accounting for his removal from the active flight rotation prior to his resignation from NASA in 1964.)
The Soyuz spacecraft, which entered service in 1967, was considered safer and more reliable, and Gagarin resumed active training for spaceflight.
In 1967, he was selected as the backup pilot for the Soyuz 1 Mission. Western journalists reported that, despite problems with Soyuz, Leonid Brezhnev applied pressure for a spaceflight to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Communist revolution. Cosmonauts and technicians prepared a document listing 200 technical problems with Soyuz and gave it to party members. A few weeksbefore launch, the pilot, Vladimir Komarov, a close friend of Gagarin, said, "If I don't make this flight, they'll send the backup pilot instead. That's (Yuri), and he'll die instead of me." After Komarov was killed when his spacecraft crashed during its return, Gagarin, very upset, said, "...if I ever find out he (Brezhnev) knew about the situation and still let everything happen, then I know exactly what I'm going to do." It is rumored that Gagarin did eventually catch up with Brezhnev and threw a drink in his face. This may be apocryphal, but as the Soviet veil of secrecy is slowly lifted such stories will be more easily verified.
Death and legacy
Yuri Gagarin Memorial Plaque - presented to the USSR on January 21, 1971. Accepting the plaque at the Moscow ceremony was Soviet Gen. Kuznetsov, commander of the USSR's Star City space base, where cosmonauts have been training since 1960. Gagarin, who made history with his 1 hour and 48 minute flight, lost his life in a training accident on March 27, 1968.
Gagarin then became deputy training director of Star City. At the same time, he began to requalify as a fighter pilot. On March 27, 1968 he and his instructor died in a MiG-15 UTI on a routine training flight near Kirzhach. It is uncertain what caused the crash, but a 1986 inquest suggests that the turbulence from a Su-11 interceptor airplane using its afterburners may have caused Gagarin's plane to go out of control. Weather conditions were also poor, which probably contributed to the inability of Gagarin and the instructor to correct before they crashed.
In his book "Two Sides of the Moon" Alexei Leonov recounts that he was flying a helicopter in the same area on that day when he heard "two loud booms in the distance". Corroborating the above hypothesis, his conclusion is that a Sukhoi jet (which he identifies as a Su-15), flying below its minimum allowed altitude, "without realizing it because of the terrible weather conditions, passed within 10 or 20 meters of Yuri and Seregin's plane while breaking the sound barrier". The resulting turbulence would have sent the MiG into an uncontrolled spin. Leonov believes the first boom he heard was that of the jet breaking the sound barrier, and the second was Gagarin's plane crashing.
A new theory, advanced by the original crash investigator in 2005, hypothesises that a cabin vent was accidentally left open by the crew or the previous pilot, thus leading to oxygen deprivation and leaving the crew incapable of controlling the aircraft. The rumor that Gagarin was drunk is almost certainly incorrect - he passed two medical examinations before the flight, and postmortem tests found no evidence of alcohol or drugs in his system. The Russian press reported he stayed with the aircraft to prevent it from hitting a school, but this too may be apocryphal.
Although Gagarin is indisputably the first man to survive space travel, there is a conspiracy theory that the Russians had previously launched two human beings into orbit prior to Gagarin, but both cosmonauts died en route. An alternative version states that one died, and the other landed off-course and was held by the Chinese government. The Soviet government then supposedly suppressed this information to prevent bad publicity for their space program. See the article: Soviet space program conspiracy accusations.
The origin of this theory lies in the fact that during the test flights of "Vostok" spacecraft a tape recorder was sent to orbit, transmitting human voice to test communication equipment. This might have lead some Western ham radio fans who overheard the transmission to conclude that there is a living human aboard the spacecraft.
"Communism opened the way to the stars". A 1961 Czechoslovak poster featuring Gagarin.
Yuri Gagarin in Bulgaria
Yuri Gagarin and his wife visiting Jawaharlal Nehru
Gagarin in the Soviet space suit
1. ^ Leonov, Alexei, Scott, David (2004). Two Sides of the Moon (in en), 218-. ISBN 0-312-30865-5.
2. ^ Holt, Ed (2005-04-03). Inquiry promises to solve Gagarin death riddle. Scotland on Sunday.
" Michael D Cole Vostok 1: First Human in Space, Enslow Publishers, Inc. Aldershot, UK, Springfield, New Jersey, 1995. ISBN 0-89490-541-4.
" Doran, Jamie, and Bizony, Piers: Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998 (paperback version, 1999). ISBN 074754278.