“The Earth is blue,” remarked Yuri Gagarin, awed, as he circled the planet in the Vostok. The Vostok spacecraft consisted of two modules. The module containing the cosmonaut was a sphere covered with an ablative material to protect it during re-entry into the atmosphere. Small rockets at its base could propel the seat through a hatch in the module in case of an emergency. Metal webbing connected the cosmonaut’s capsule to the equipment module below it. The equipment module contained among other things, the retro-rocket to brake the Vostok out of orbit.
Gagarin encountered a serious problem during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere: his capsule which was supposed to separate from the equipment module, failed to do so cleanly. A bundle of wire kept the two together. As the two modules went hurtling down there was a very real risk that they would collide but Gagarin remained unperturbed, calmly reporting the situation to ground control. Finally the wire burned through and the capsule spun away from the Vostok. Gagarin ejected from the capsule at a height of about 7 kilometres and then parachuted down to land near the small Russian village of Smelovka. His capsule landed separately by its own parachute, a few kilometres away. Gagarin’s parachute departure from Vostok was kept secret because the International Aeronautical Federation (FAI) requires that a pilot land with his vehicle in order to claim a new record in flying. The Soviet Union did not want a technicality to stand in the way of their cosmonaut being declared the first man to orbit Earth.