"Gagarin looked just like everyone else"
Ada Kotovskaya, once Gagarin’s personal physician, was to monitor the health of 20 young men, future cosmonauts. Today the former doctor is the Head of the Acceleration Physiology Laboratory of the Russian State Research Center, a Professor and Doctor of Medical Sciences at the Institute of Medico biological Problems. She spoke to RT and shared her memories of what it was like to deal with Yury Gagarin and witness the first-ever manned flight into space behind the scenes.
“Yury Gagarin looked like everyone else; all the men arrived of approximately the same age and weight. And the reason was obvious: the spacecraft was designed for an average-sized man,” said Kotovskaya.
The young men did not know what they had to face – the work was extremely classified. The cosmonauts were just told they were about to test the new craft, but they were completely unaware what kind of craft it was – everything was kept secret, recalled Kotovskaya.
“A decision was made at a closed session that we had to choose 6 out of those 20. Why six? Because there were six Vostok spacecraft”, said the professor. The space launch was scheduled for early April, and everyone sensed it was not going to be delayed, so the personnel had to be quick to make their choice. “The team of six we finally chose is now referred to as Gagarin’s Six”.
As Kotovskaya says, in early April the six men arrived to the launch site, all expecting to become the one. In the meantime, only two of them, Gagarin and Titov were to be closely examined by doctors; no one knew who the two candidates were. But the men did find out – someone leaked the word, she remembers.
On April 10th, the official commission made two vital decisions: choosing Gagarin, and scheduling the launch on the 12th of April. “Gagarin was jubilant! And Titov, who was appointed his back-up was extremely upset. But he was keeping gracious.”
Late on April 11th, Korolev picked up Gagarin from the spacemen’s quarters and took him out for a walk. Kotovskaya says the tradition of taking a stroll with Korolev and talking remained, and as long as he lived, each spaceman always looked forward to seeing him before their launch – it became something sacred for them.
As Kotovskaya recollects, early on April 12 Gagarin looked more pale than usual; he was unsociable and quiet, which was untypical of him, recalls the former physician. “He would answer by nodding or a short 'yes' to all questions. This was a different Gagarin. The way I see it, he was focused in his heart and spirit on what he was about to experience. We hugged him. I cannot even remember whether he smiled, but I don’t think he did”.
“And suddenly we realized there was nothing printed on his space helmet. Can you imagine?” shuddered Kotovskaya. The cosmonaut could have made an emergency landing; he could have even been taken for a spy! “They forgot to put an imprint on the helmet, so they just wrote USSR in red letters, and that was it”.
Soon after the historic flight Gagarin, had a talk with Korolev, asking what he would do next. He missed the flights, and was very sad. “Korolev was silent for quite a while, and then he said, 'you should study'." And indeed, on November 1, 1966, Yury Gagarin stepped into the centrifuge with several other people as a backup for Komarov who was aspiring to fly the new Soyuz spacecraft.
Today, Ada Kotovskaya believes she can better understand why Gagarin was chosen: “He had a combination of amazing qualities such as stable health, and wisdom. And most importantly, he had to be a great representative of our country, since he was the first spaceman from Earth”.