[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next] - [Date Index][Thread Index][Author Index]

?? Yuri Gagarin = UA1LO ??

12 September 2002

To: All Interested
From: Martin Davidoff, K2UBC

Re: Concerning the question of whether Yuri Gagarin
    (the first person to fly in space) and the Radio
    Amateur UA1LO are one and the same person.
    [The story behind the story]

	This note is in response to several related comments that appeared
on the AMSAT-BB last week.  Since not everyone reading this BB was radio
active back in the 60's, 70's, 80's, and 90's I've included some background

	The earliest known statement suggesting that Yuri Gagarin was a
Radio Amateur appeared in the March/April 1981 issue of Orbit magazine, the
primary publication of AMSAT-NA at the time.  It was in an article by Joe
Kasser, G3ZCZ, [the editor of Orbit] titled "A History of Radio Amateurs in
Space -- Part 2". The article stated that Yuri Gagarin, the first person to
fly in space, was UA1LO.    

	The evidence provided for this assertion was a QSL card from UA1LO
to W8DX confirming a QSO on May 19, 1962 signed "Yuri".  Figures in the
Orbit article showed several Russian stamps, and a photo, all featuring
Gagarin.  Joe never stated that the stamps or the photo were from the back
of the QSL card but the reader could easily make that assumption.  Joe later
reported that the stamps were from his collection.  I believe that the photo
was on the flip side of the QSL and that the card was probably via the
famous Box 88, Moscow.

	Needless to say, the article caught my attention.  However, after
reading it carefully I concluded that this was just a typical UA QSL from
the early 60's.  I felt that the fact that the operator happened to be named
"Yuri", a relatively common name, and that the Gagarin photo appeared on the
back of the card didn't justify the conclusion that UA1LO was Gagarin.  I
have to admit that it occurred to me that, in the QST tradition, the article
was an "April Fool Feature" (check the publishing date).

	Several months after the Orbit article appeared I ran into Joe at an
AMSAT Meeting in the MD/DC area and asked him if the article was true.
Since this is more than 20 years ago and I have trouble recalling what
happened last week I don't fully trust my memory as to his response but I do
remember concluding that the UA1LO - Gagarin connection was probably not
valid.  Joe states that based on the information he had available at the
time he believed the statement to be true -- the article was NOT an April
Fool Feature.  

	Shortly after his famous flight into space (April 12, 1961) Yuri
Gagarin was declared a "Hero of the Soviet Union" by the government.  This
is an honor of the highest order awarded to citizens making outstanding
contributions to Soviet culture and life.  Perhaps more important, Gagarin
was truly regarded as a hero by the general population.  Shortly after his
flight photos of Gagarin were widely distributed all over the Soviet Union,
especially to youth groups and in schools.  It's very likely that picture
postcards with the famous photo were widely circulated.

	At the time it was common practice for individual Soviet hams (those
with their own stations) to produce QSL cards using linoleum block printing
over, or on the flip side of, photo's of famous people, places or works of
art.  [At the time most UA activity was from club stations].

	Last week I read with great interest the AMSAT-BB note from Frank
Cahoy, K0BLT, concerning his 1961 QSL from UA1LO (dated August 18, 1961)
with the photo of Gagarin on the back.  Frank sent me a scanned copy of the
QSL and a translation (thanks to K5OE) of the text printed on the card.  The
card itself was somewhat different from the one W8DX received but it tends
to support the contention that the cards sent to W8DX and K0BLT are generic
QSL's featuring a photo of a very popular Soviet hero from an operator who
happened to be named "Yuri".  

	The scan of K0BLT's QSL appears to be a stock postcard featuring a
photo of Gagarin with "UA1LO Leningrad" added using Linoleum block (or
similar) printing techniques.  The Cyrillic text, lower right on the address
side, is characteristic of standard postcard printing.

	I'd like to clearly state that there is absolutely NO reason to
suspect that UA1LO had any intention of misleading anyone as to his
identity.  He was simply following common everyday procedures and it
probably never occurred to him that his card might cause confusion.

	I understand that shortly after Joe's 1981 article appeared there
was an article or editorial by Wayne Green, W2NSD, which also mentioned the
"fact" that UA1LO was Yuri Gagarin.  I have not seen this article so I don't
know if it contains any additional facts.  I assume that it is based
entirely on Joe's comments.  If anyone has information to the contrary
please make it public.

	For those of you not familiar with Wayne let me say that over a
period of several decades he was a very well known and influential
commentator on Amateur Radio.  His articles, editorials and speeches were
often informative and provocative; they were always interesting.  However,
as a journalist, Wayne made it clear that he considered fact checking a
waste of time and he never let facts ruin a good story.  I'm sure that he'd
have a good laugh if he knew he was being quoted as an authority on a
question concerning historical accuracy.

	Leo Labutin, UA3CR, was a key figure in the group of Soviet Radio
Amateurs that built and arranged for the launch of the early RS satellites.
In about 1989 he made his first trip to the U.S. and I had the opportunity
of meeting his Aeroflot flight and acting as his host for a few days before
we flew to Atlanta for the AMSAT convention.  During the visit I asked him
if he knew whether Gagarin was a Radio Amateur -- specifically if he were
UA1LO.  Leo replied that he knew of NO evidence that Gagarin was a Radio
Amateur.  [His wording was a little more colorful].  I did NOT ask Leo if he
knew Gagarin or UA1LO personally so you can choose to consider his comments
to be hearsay evidence.  

	During the mid 1970's and early 1980's I had the opportunity to see
numerous copies of RADIO, the primary hobby magazine covering electronics
and Amateur Radio in the Soviet Union.  One of the goals of the magazine was
to encourage young people to develop an interest in technical areas by
presenting interesting projects and by describing achievements of prominent
Russians involved in exciting technical programs.  I believe that if Gagarin
was UA1LO the fact would have been mentioned often in RADIO.  I NEVER saw
any mention of Yuri Gagarin being a Radio Amateur in the magazine.  Since
the sample of issues I saw was limited you are free to conclude that the
information in this paragraph is irrelevant.

	Over the years the statement that Gagarin was UA1LO continues to
resurface.  To the best of my knowledge no significant new evidence has
appeared during this time.

	So -- Was Gagarin UA1LO?

	My opinion (and it is only my opinion) is that based on the
available evidence it's extremely unlikely that Gagarin was UA1LO.  But I am
not 100% certain and I am always looking for new "facts".
Via the amsat-bb mailing list at AMSAT.ORG courtesy of AMSAT-NA.
To unsubscribe, send "unsubscribe amsat-bb" to Majordomo@amsat.org