It didn’t take long for me and others like me to start figuring out ways of avoiding the Crunch. The one good thing about bodgies is because they have so little regard for intelligence, so they aren’t very bright. Week by week, I would search the school and surrounding region for hiding places, to which I could retire when the crunch was on. Some of these sustained me for months but inevitably circumstances would change or someone would blab, and I would be discovered and herded shamefaced to join the assembled rabble. I hid in the air conditioning system, and the rubbish bins, and under the floorboards everywhere. I found holes in the perimeter fence through which I could escape into neighbouring yards. But if I learned that no one can hide forever, still I could take pride in the number of crunches each hiding-place had allowed me to avoid.
The story goes that one morning a Russian peasant woman saw a man in a space suit descend by parachute and land nearby. She went up to him, asking: “Have you come from outer space?” To which Yuri Gagarin turned on his famous smile and replied: “I certainly have.”
While the Americans continued to have their failures, Yuri Gagarin flew. It started as a rumour in the newspaper on the morning of the 13th of April, but that had happened before. Several times the media had reported that the Russians had put a man in space but each time it proved to be untrue. Rumour had it too that each of those cosmonauts had actually flown and not survived, but that only tended to underscore that fact that the Yanks were pussyfooting. The Americans tried to portray the Reds as callous bastards, barbaric and cruel, who would happily kill to win, while they were determined to take a more humane approach, but it didn’t wash—not for a moment. Spacemen were supposed to be heroes with their lives on the line and martyrs to the cause were considered part and parcel of the exploration of space. Why didn’t the Americans show a bit of nerve and just fire the guy up there—they were so close to doing so for such a long time? In fact, had they tried, Alan Shepherd would have died any of several fiery deaths, since the several unmanned attempts that might have been his first flight failed explosively.
Next day the rumour became true but there were no details. It wasn’t until the day after that—when Yuri could be photographed returned safely to the bosom of his family—that we learned any details. Up he went on a Vostok I, a 2½-ton steel ball modified from and unmanned satellite, launched on a Sputnik booster with a third stage added, completed one full orbit, scorched back into the atmosphere at 28,000 km./hr, and then ejected from the capsule at 23,000 feet and parachuted back to earth in Central Russian. The joy on his beaming face spread into every corner of the world, except possibly NASA and the Pentagon. America may have lost the space race, but humanity at large had won it.