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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gagarin Flight 'Malfunction' Revealed

NEW YORK -- The flight of the first person in space was a close brush with death for Lieutenant Yury Gagarin, not the triumph Moscow proclaimed for decades, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Among hundreds of items of Soviet and Russian space paraphernalia to be auctioned off are notes written by Gagarin's commander which tell how the spaceship, the Vostok I, spun dangerously out of control near the end of its orbit around Earth on April 12, 1961.

"Malfunction!" the commander, Colonel Yevgeny Karpov, wrote in a frantic scrawl. "Sudden impact!"

After 10 minutes of high drama, the Times reported, the spacecraft separated from the rocket that was causing it to lurch and began a wobbly descent back to Earth after a 108-minute flight.

The Times said Western space experts have authenticated the episode from other Russian sources, including a report by Gagarin himself, and have concluded that he had a close brush with death.

Experts said that if the dangerous nature of Gagarin's flight had been known at the time, it might have changed the course of history.

"There's no question that Kennedy would have been much slower in making a commitment to send Americans to the moon," said John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Senator John Glenn, who became the first American in orbit in 1962, agreed. "If something like that had been known, it might have played into the hands of the doubters."

he continued, adding that the spaceship was spinning wildly. "Don't Panic!"