Any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic.
Sir Arthur C. Clarke
At 11:30 a.m. on ii August 1962, the seventh person to leave the Earth in a spacecraft was launched into orbit. It was a Soviet national holiday known as Physical Culture Day, and the much-rumored launch was dramatically announced in a special Radio Moscow broadcast to the nation, interrupting regular programs. The report had actually been held back for one hour and twenty-six minutes, in the event any problems arose with the launch or orbital insertion.
News of this latest Soviet manned launch caused tremendous excitement in the streets and homes of Moscow. Radios in parked cars were turned up to full volume, attracting crowds of excited listeners. Meanwhile, Americans were just waking to start their weekend. Throughout the day, reports flowed from Moscow that cosmonaut Maj. Andrian Nikolayev, in his Vostok 3 spacecraft, was orbiting the Earth every 88.5 minutes, with a perigee (low point) of 113 miles and an apogee (high point) of 156 miles. His call sign was “Sokol” (Falcon), and he had established solid communications with his control center, reporting “I feel well; all systems of the ship are functioning perfectly. The Earth is visible through the porthole.”
In a surprise move at the time of the launch, but one it would repeat on subsequent manned flights, the Soviet government broadcast an appeal to the United States to refrain from conducting any high-altitude nuclear testing while its cosmonaut was in orbit. They were quickly assured that no such tests would take place while Nikolayev was aloft. Nine hours into Nikolayev’s flight, television images of a human space traveler were broad-