Craft That Led To First Man In Space Up For Auction

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Vostok: Earth's First Spaceship

The Vostok 3KA-2 was the last unmanned flight before Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth on April 12, 1961. The rocket went into space carrying a dog named Zvezdochka and a mannequin in a spacesuit.

Fifty years ago, America was in the depths of the Cold War.

From the launch of Sputnik in 1957 to Yuri Gagarin's historic flight in 1961 that made him the first man to venture into space, the Soviet Union was winning the race, and the competition spurred the achievements of both nations.

Eighteen days before Gagarin's flight, the Vostok 3KA-2 rocket blasted into space and safely brought home a little dog named Zvezdochka and a mannequin in a spacesuit.

The Vostok 3KA-2 space capsule i

The Vostok 3KA-2 space capsule Courtesy of Sotheby's hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Sotheby's
The Vostok 3KA-2 space capsule

The Vostok 3KA-2 space capsule

Courtesy of Sotheby's

On Tuesday, Sotheby's in New York City will auction off that space capsule, which is the only Vostok capsule outside Russia.

NASA will also announce the museums that will take home three of its retired space shuttles: Atlantis, Endeavour and Enterprise.

A Tiny Spacecraft

The entrance hall of Sotheby's showcases the capsule, which looks small and primitive. The inside is about the size of a large car, and it housed 1,800 pounds of instruments, the mannequin and the dog.

David Redden, a vice chairman of Sotheby's, says when school groups see the spacecraft they're very excited and surprised. "They bounce up and down, and they think, 'Human beings first went into space in this funny, round beach ball?' " he says. "It doesn't look like a great big sleek spaceship."

There are marks on the capsule where it burned as it re-entered the atmosphere, and a spot where engineers cut into the heat shield to examine how well it withstood the flaming re-entry.

Vostok Missions

After the Vostok 3KA-2's successful flight, the USSR launched several more missions:

  • VOSTOK 1: On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to travel into space. The Soviet cosmonaut orbits the Earth once. This comes as a large blow to the U.S., which had been competing with the U.S.S.R. to get a man into space since the launch of the U.S.S.R.'s satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. Three weeks later, on May 5, 1961, the U.S. launches Alan Shephard into space.
  • VOSTOK 2: On Aug. 6, 1961, Gherman Titov orbits the Earth multiple times, spending 25 hours and 18 minutes in space. Astronaut John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth in February of the following year.
  • VOSTOK 3 and VOSTOK 4: From Aug. 11 to Aug. 15, 1962, Andriyan Nikolayev and Pavel Popovich pilot two separate capsules in space, which is the first time the Soviets are able to have two manned aircraft in space simultaneously.
  • VOSTOK 5: From June 14 to June 19, 1963, Valery Bykovsky takes the lead for longest amount of time spent in space. He orbits the Earth for almost five days, for a total of 81 times.
  • VOSTOK 6: From June 16 to June 19, 1963, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova becomes the first woman to travel into space. Soon after Tereshkova's flight, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. begin the race to the moon.

— Chelsea Keenan

Selby Kiffer of the special projects department at the auction house says an engineer involved in the recovery of the capsule in Siberia described the ship's condition after its re-entry as a wounded animal, panting its last breath.

"It was so hot still from burning through the atmosphere it was melting the snow around it, and it must have been a very evocative sight," he says.

A video from the Russian state archives shows the recovery of the spacecraft, with footage of the dog Zvezdochka, or little star, coming out of the capsule and being petted and cradled lovingly.

An American businessman originally bought the spacecraft in 1996. The estimated price at Sotheby's tomorrow is $2 million to $10 million.

Several hours before the auction, NASA will announce which three institutions will win the right to exhibit the space shuttles. It will cost each institution $28 million to have the shuttle moved, cleaned and decontaminated.

It's no accident that the auction of the Vostok comes a few hours later. Redden says that allows those museums that didn't get a shuttle a little time to digest the fact and to come buy something that, in Sotheby's view, is far easier to accommodate.

And although it's smaller in both size and price, it's something certainly as historic.



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