Vostok: any of a series of manned Soviet spacecraft that was responsible for carrying “the first human being”, “the first woman” and “the longest solo spaceflight” recorded.
Created by Nikolai Belousov, who studied the possibility of launching a piloted rocket on a ballistic arc. He first worked in missile R&D, but after WWII a new effort to conquer space in the US and the USSR was full steam ahead. So he applied his studies on ballistic arcs in finding a method of launching a piloted rocket.
The final design of the Vostok spacecraft consisted of two main components: a descent module with the pilot cabin and the instrument module equipped with a braking engine. This stemmed from the requirement for the craft to be able to safely carry a pilot in orbit and return him/her to Earth. The main flight control could only orient the spacecraft tail, which meant that the braking engine needed to be able slow down the spacecraft to ensure a safe return. A reentry maneuver meant life or death for the pilot and the braking engine could not be backed up by any other hardware.
Four 1K prototypes of the Vostok spacecraft carried pairs of dogs each in 1960, however two of these missions failed killing four dogs. In March 1961, a pair of unmanned versions of the Vostok spacecraft designated 3KA each carrying a single dog returned their passengers safely to Earth.
The first official flight carrying the very first human being into space took place on April 12, 1961, Vostok 1, carrying cosmonaut Yury A. Gagarin, made a single orbit of Earth before reentry. Vostok had six more launchings over a two-year period (1961-63).
Even though Vostok held enough food, water, air and power onboard to support a 10-day mission, the initial flight lasted only 1 hour and 48 minutes. The second, Vostok 2 (Aug. 6, 1961), remained in space more than 25 hours, making 17 orbits around the Earth. Later Vostok missions were launched in pairs. Vostok 3 and Vostok 4 were both launched on Aug. 11, 1962.
The final two missions in the Vostok series included the first woman cosmonaut, Valentina V. Tereshkova. Vostok 5 (Bykovsky) “the longest solo spaceflight” launched on June 14, 1963 and two days later Vostok 6 (Tereshkova) launched. These two Vostok flights were extraordinary because the two spacecraft traveled extremely close together (at times only 3 miles [4.8 km] apart), setting the stage for future space dockings between orbiting vehicles.