The Soviet Union scores another technological victory, launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1 into a single orbit of Earth lasting a little over 100 minutes. After that orbit, Gagarin’s Vostok return capsule carries him safely through the atmosphere; he then triggers an ejection seat which punches him out of the capsule, at which point he parachutes to the ground.
The Soviet Union launches its second manned spacecraft, Vostok 2, with cosmonaut Gherman Titov aboard. This mission sets a new space endurance record, with Titov spending just over one day in orbit, circling Earth 17 times in the process. Later accounts show that it’s not a pleasant day in orbit: Titov is reportedly the first sufferer of space sickness, vomiting in the cabin of his Vostok capsule.
Andrian Nikolayev becomes the third Soviet cosmonaut to reach orbit. Aboard Vostok 3, Nikolayev remains in orbit for almost four days, long enough to become the first space traveler from Earth to have company while in orbit.
The Soviet Union launches Vostok 4 with Pavel Popovich aboard, while Andrian Nikolayev orbits overhead in Vostok 3. The two vehicles pass within four miles of one another, but with no precision maneuvering, rendezvous or docking equipment, there’s little practical engineering value in the tandem space flight, other than to prove that ground controllers can handle two simultaneous flights. Popovich returns to Earth after nearly three days.
The Soviet Union launches the Vostok 5 mission to orbit Earth, carrying cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky aboard. He remains in orbit for over four days, traveling over 2,000,000 miles in Earth orbit. As he flies over the Soviet Union, a second Vostok capsule is launched in the USSR’s first bid to trump the United States by mounting the first manned space rendezvous.
While cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky orbits overhead about Vostok 5, Vostok 6 is launched from the Soviet Union, carrying the first female space traveler, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. Spending nearly three days in orbit, Tereshkova’s Vostok capsule serves as a rendezvous target for Vostok 5, though without precision piloting ability, the two vehicles’ closest approach is no closer than within three miles, and neither Vostok is actually equipped for any kind of docking. Tereshkova’s flight is a political point scored for the Soviet Union, but only a brief victory for womankind: it will be two more decades before another woman flies in space. The glass ceiling remains firmly in orbit.