Electrical components sheathed in glass make up part of the Vostok 1 guidance computer, housed at what is now the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Concerned about the effects of space flight on a human, Soviet engineers controlled Yuri Gagarin's flight entirely from the ground. (Watch clips from a film about space tourists flying out of Baikonour.)
Gagarin is the focus of a new book that is already causing controversy. Titled Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin, the book alleges that Gagarin sent a memo to a KGB officer that urged for a delay in the inaugural flight of the Soyuz 1 craft.
Launched in 1967, Soyuz 1 was a manned space flight that was supposed to perform a complex crew-swapping rendezvous in space with Soyuz 2, whose launch, scheduled for a day after Soyuz 1's, was eventually aborted. The mission was a disaster, and cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed when Soyuz 1 crashed during its return to Earth.
NASM's Lewis and other historians do not believe the book's account, however.
"The book asserts that the engineers and astronauts and technicians knew the mission was doomed, and that Gagarin petitioned to have the flight postponed and was turned down," she said.
But "this is not consistent with the way things were previously done in the Soviet space program. They had postponed missions on numerous occasions for technical reasons."
(Also see "Apollo 11: Five Little-Known Facts About the Moon Landing.")