A Slightly Used 1961 Soviet Space Capsule, Anyone?
By James Grahame
On March 23, 1961, twenty days before Yuri Gagarin electrified the world by orbiting the earth in his Vostok 3KA-3 capsule (later renamed Vostok-1), the Soviets queitly sent Vostok 3KA-2 into space. It contained a life-sized mannequin dubbed Ivan Ivanovich along with a dog named Zvezdochka. They returned safely after a single orbit, setting the stage for Gagarin's earthshattering ride.
It goes up for auction at Sotheby's in New York on April 12th, 2011 -- the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's flight -- with an estimated sale price of between $2 and $10m. That's quite an increase from a previous appearance at Sotheby's in 1996, when the guide price was between $800,000 and $1m.
As Sotheby's recounts, "The flight lasted 115 minutes. Vostok 3KA-2 completed one orbit around the Earth and returned safely to a snow-bound Russia. The landing site was near to the city of Izhevsk, but almost impossible to reach because of deep snow. Thirty paratroopers had been sent to guard the weather-bound site, where the ground lay under almost five feet of snow. The rescue party of engineers required a ski plane, and in an ultimate irony, a peasant's horse-drawn sleigh to reach the landing site. An eyewitness records finding the capsule, 'Half scorched, slightly bent over the ground, it seemed an enormous animal driven too hard, lying in a narrow snow-covered gully, the snow melting around the charred and still hot body of the unit.'
The life-like 'Ivan Ivanovich,' ejected on descent, had fallen close by. In one of the more amusing episodes of space history, the local peasants were convinced that the inflexible paratroopers who had been instructed not to touch Ivan were cruelly preventing the rescue of a downed flier. Restless and angry, the peasants relented only when one of their elders was allowed to approach and touch the waxy rubber face of the mannequin."