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Sotheby's to Offer Iconic Piece of Space History That Paved the Way for Yuri Gagarin's Historic Flight
The Vostok 3KA-2 Space Capsule which paved the way for Gagarin’s historic mission. Est. $2/10 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, N.Y.- Nearly 50 years ago, on 12 April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin rocketed out of the Earth’s atmosphere aboard the small, spherical Vostok 3KA-3 Space Capsule, becoming the first man to travel into outer space. Three weeks prior, the Soviet space program launched the final test flight of the Vostok spacecraft in preparation for this momentous event. The Vostok 3KA-2 carried a life-size cosmonaut mannequin, Ivan Ivanovich, and a dog, Zvezdochka, into low Earth orbit, and reentered on its first pass over the Russia 115 minutes later. Sotheby’s will offer the Vostok 3KA-2 Space Capsule, which paved the way for Gagarin’s historic mission, in a dedicated auction in New York on 12 April 2011, the 50th anniversary of man’s first flight into outer space (est. $2/10 million*). The space capsule will be on public exhibition in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries beginning 24 February.

“Not only are there no other examples outside of Russia of the world’s first spacecraft, this capsule was pivotal in space history as providing the green light for Gagarin’s spectacular achievement” commented David Redden, Vice Chairman and Head of Sotheby’s Special Projects department. “To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that thrilling moment–man’s first flight into space–with the sale of this capsule is a great privilege for Sotheby’s.” Vostok was the Soviet Union’s first program to put a man in space, and was conceived and overseen by the architect of the Soviet Space Program, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. Five Vostok-type capsules were launched in 1960-61. While two were destroyed, the spacecraft that launched on 19 August, carrying the dogs Belka and Strelka, demonstrated that living creatures could be returned safely to earth from orbit.

In 1961, Korolev focused his attention on adapting the Vostok model to carry a human passenger. Even after a successful test of the new design on 9 March 1961, Korolev insisted on a final “dress rehearsal” before putting a cosmonaut’s life in jeopardy. Vostok 3KA-2 blasted into space on 25 March, carrying a life-size cosmonaut mannequin, nicknamed Ivan Ivanovich, and the dog Zvezdochka (Russian for “Little Star”). After completing one orbit, the capsule safely reentered the earth’s atmosphere and landed near the city of Izhevsk, with the mannequin ejecting prior to landing as planned and the dog returning safely. Notably, the Ivanovich mannequin has been on exhibition at the Smithsonian National Art & Space Museum since 1997. With Korolev’s reservations now assuaged, twenty days later Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth in an exact twin of this capsule, the Vostok 3KA-3, later renamed Vostok 1.

In describing the landing of Vostok 3KA-2, V.P. Efimoz of the spacesuit manufacturer Zvezda noted “… by sleigh, the rescue team reached the landing place of the descent 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. Attached to it by slings, lay sprawling the voluminous canopy of the parachute.”

Sotheby’s has a notable history with Russian space memorabilia, having held the first auctions dedicated to Russian Space History in 1993 and 1996 and in the process defining a new market. Sotheby’s history in Russia stretches further back to 1988, when the company held an auction of Russian avant-garde and Soviet contemporary art in Moscow. In 2007, Sotheby’s became the first international auction house to open an office in Moscow.

*Estimate does not include buyer’s premium

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