The flight of Vostok-2, notes of nostalgia

Sven Grahn


The flight of the second space traveller is deeply ingrained in my mind, because it took place the same day that I left for my first travel outside Scandinavia. The day after the landing of Vostok-2 I started off on a sea voyage across the North Sea from Gothenburg to London's Tilbury docks on the steamship Svecia. Just as Gherman Titov had suffered space sickness during his flight I vomited green gall aboard the Suecia as it fought its way  through a vicious storm on the North Sea. As we reached London I rushed for newspaper stands to read about my new hero. I was fifteen years old and had been "badly bitten" by spaceflight.

Rumours in Moscow

As Saturday, August 5, 1961 drew to a close in Western Europe, the Agence-France-Presse sent out a cable from Moscow reporting that rumours flying in the Soviet capital said that the second Soviet space traveller would be launched within 24 hours. An hour later AFP was even more precise and said that the announcement of the new flight would be made early on the Sunday (8).

Discussion about the flight profile during the summer of 1961

As described in (3) plans for Vostok-2 were sketched in early 1961 and focused on a day-long mission. In the middle of May 1961, Korolev and the cosmonauts as well as biomedical experts and other officials went on vacation to Sochi on the Black Sea. Korolev argued for  a a day long mission, while General Kamanin (director of cosmonaut training), the cosmonauts and doctors were more careful and thought a three-orbit mission should be the next step. Kamanin even called Korolev "adventurist" in his diaries (4). The map on the right shows the ground tracks for such a three-rev mission and a possible landing zone. However, Korolev ordered his deputy Bushuyev (later known as the Soviet manager for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project) to prepare for a daylong flight. In June, Air Force officers, physicians and cosmonauts again favoured a three-orbit flight in a meeting with the Air Force deputy commander-in-chief. Korolev brought the dispute all the way to Smirnov, chairman of the State Committee for Defence Technology, who decided to favour Korolev's proposal for a seventeen orbit flight.

In early June, the State Commission for the flight convened and tentatively assigned Gherman Titov as the prime pilot and Andrian Nikolayev as the back-up. The launch date was et for August, a mere two months later. The detailed technical document setting out the specifics was signed by Korolev and other officials on 7 July, 1961 (3).

Korolev gets an "order" from Khrushchev

In the middle of July, Khrushchev had invited Korolev and other aerospace leaders to a meeting at the Crimea vacation home of the Soviet leader. Korolev informed Khrushchev about the planned flight. Khrushchev hinted that the flight should occur no later than 10 August (3). It seems that this flight came to provide some propaganda cover for a very disturbing political event planned for 13 August, the construction of the Berlin Wall - the most enduring symbol of the Cold War.

Sunday, 6 August 1961 - the flight gets off

Vostok-2 carrying 26-year cosmonaut Major Gherman Stepanovich Titov was launched from Baikonur at 0600 UT on Sunday 6 August 1961. At 0745 UT Radio Moscow interrupted its transmissions and the famous wartime radio announcer Yuri Levitan announced the flight (5). The spacecraft mass was given as 4731 kg and the orbit altitudes announced were 178-257 km at an inclination of 64.93 degrees. Yuri Gagarin, the first space traveller, was visiting millionaire Cyrus Eaton in Deep Cove, Nova Scotia. Gagarin decided (was ordered?) to fly straight home when he heard the news about the new flight.

Immediately after entering orbit Titov felt very disoriented and uncomfortable. Titov tries to eat lunch at 0930 UT and "supper" at 1400 UT (1). When he tried to eat on the sixth orbit he vomited (3). The graph on the right shows pulse rate and respiration as a function of elapsed time (in hours). The pulse rate dropped significantly about 10.5 hours into the flight, i.e. at about 1630 UT, which was about an hour after Titov said "goodnight" to ground staff (see below).

Signals picked up in the West

In the official TASS announcement of the flight the radio frequencies were given as 15.765 MHz, 20.006 MHz, 143.625 MHz for reports from the cosmonaut and 19.995 MHz for telemetry. The first two short-wave voice frequencies were amplitude modulated, while the VHF voice frequency was frequency modulated - and of course is still used by the Russian segment of the International Space Station. The VHF link was used only over the Soviet Union, while the other channels were used everywhere else. Interestingly, a TASS communiqué gave unusual details about the VHF radio link. In the Pravda issue of 7 August 1961 the 143.625 MHz voice transmitter  was said to be frequency-modulated with a frequency deviation of ± 30 kHz! Why would such technical detail be released? Well, the flight would last quite a long time, and many people around the world would have the chance to listen in. To create maximum excitement and "propaganda effect" it was essential that listeners outside the Soviet Union would be able to tune in, but it was also important that people did so, in order to avoid any claim from the West that the whole flight was a fake! Indeed this information would probably be most useful to professional ELINT organizations that could set their surveillance receivers to the correct bandwidth to get clear voice.

Many listening posts around the world heard Titov's voice between 0930-1000 UT (7). As Vostok-2 passed over Western Europe at about 0900 UT, two revolutions after launch, the observatory at Meudon near Paris could hear the cosmonaut's voice and Reuters' monitoring station outside London could pick up the telemetry beacon signals on 19.995 MHz. Radio specialist Sgt James Duffy in Arlington Virginia (see picture) picked up greetings in Russian from Titov to the American people. The Soviet Embassy in Washington provided a translation (7). This must have happened around 1450 UT because this was the only pass over North America before going to sleep. The frequency was either 15.765 MHz or 20.006 MHz, probably the latter. The BBC monitoring station picked up Titov's call to ground stations, his report about the temperature (22 degrees C) and his call-sign "Oriel". In (2) it is stated that Titov had to make contact on shortwaves twice an hour, regardless of position.

Voice signals  on shortwaves were heard weakly at 1345 UT and the telemetry beacon on 19.995 MHz was picked up at 1514 UT on Sunday, August 6, by the Råö space radio observatory near Gothenburg on Sweden's west coast.

Swedish radio amateur Reimar Stridh operating from Ulvsunda in Stockholm picked up the telemetry beacon on 19.995 MHz for periods up to 20 minutes. At the pass around 1805 UT he also noted that the beacon was switched off an on (9).

The monitoring station of the Swedish Telecommunications Agency at Enköping near Stockholm received the telemetry beacon on 19.995 MHz from Vostok-2 throughout Sunday, August 6, 1961, starting at 1000 UT and then for about 15 minutes every orbit that the spacecraft made around the globe. The last signals for the day were picked up at Enköping at 2241-2254 UT as the spacecraft flew southbound over the Atlantic (9).

The flight progresses

Titov tried manual attitude control already on first orbit as he came out of eclipse at 0720 UT (2) and later at the end of the seventh orbit (3). As far as be ascertained this experiment worked satisfactorily. At 0738 UT, after completing first orbit, Titov and  Khrushchev exchanged greetings (2).

Titov transmits greetings and goodnight wishes while flying over Moscow at 1516 UT. Titov then sleeps from 1530 UT until 2337 UT. However, before going "to bed" he suffered from vertigo, nausea and headaches. Despite this Titov was able to sleep. He overslept by 35 minutes, but still felt bad. However, at the end of this twelfth orbit he began to feel better (3). The cosmonaut ate breakfast at 0245 UT.

The monitoring station of the Swedish Telecommunications Agency at Enköping near Stockholm received the telemetry beacon at 0534-0552 UT as the spacecraft streaked across the launch site on its penultimate orbit around the earth (9). A Japanese monitoring station said it picked up its last signals from Vostok-2 at 0710 UT (10).

During re-entry the instrument section of Vostok was still attached to the spherical re-entry vehicle by straps and Titov suffered the same nerve-racking experience as Gagarin. Aerodynamic heating finally severed the two modules and the re-entry vehicle descended safely. Titov ejected from the capsule and descended by parachute to finally land at 0718 UT on 7 August 1961 near Krasniy Kut, in the Saratov district. The successful landing was announced by Radio Moscow at 0904 UT.


A film about Gherman Titov's flight, "To the Stars Again", was released in October 1961. It was a pretty standard Soviet propaganda film with extremely little technical detail about the flight. However, in several scenes the orbital motion of Vostok-2 was illustrated using a model of Vostok that later turned out to be highly inaccurate. When the film appeared, a friend of mine and myself rented the whole film reel from a company in Stockholm that distributed such movies ("Föreningsfilmo"). We then made prints of the frames containing this inaccurate mock-up (se picture on the lower right) and tried to analyse the spacecraft design. In an another web article "Soviet Space Deceptions - not so many after all!" I have described the strange twists and turns of the Soviet description of the Vostok spacecraft and the "faked" Vostok-2 configuration.


  1. Space: From Sputnik to Gemini. Interim History. A Facts on File Publication, 1965
  2. Wilfred Burchett, Anthony Purdy, Gherman Titov's Flight Into Space, Panther Books 1372, 1962
  3. Asif A. Siddiqi, Challenge to Apollo, SP-2000-4408
  4. Bart Hendrickx, The Kamanin diaries 1960-63, JBIS, Vol. 50, No.1, January 1997, pp 33-40.
  5. Swedish evening paper Aftonbladet, 6 August 1961, p.6
  6. Swedish evening paper Expressen, 7 August 1961, p.6
  7. Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, Tuesday 8 August 1961, p.5.
  8. AFP wires transmitted via the Swedish news agency TT at 2159 and 2304 UT on 5 August 1961
  9. Telegram from Swedish news agency TT at 1042 UT on 7 August 1961.
  10. A Reuters' dispatch from Tokyo relayed by the Swedish news agency TT at 0835 UT on 7 August 1961.

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