April 12 is a huge day in space history. On that day in 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space after the first cosmonaut Russian dog, Laika. His epic flight aboard Vostok 1 spacecraft was the man’s first encounter with the outer space. Gagarin proved that human could endure the rigors of the flight, including the weightlessness, and perform there all the necessary manual operations.
That morning Gagarin was joking, and his pulse remained an exemplary 64 beats a minute when he took his seat in the spacecraft and uttered his famous Poehali! (Let’s go!)! He rocketed around the Earth in a single orbit at an altitude of 302 kilometers (187 miles), whistling the tune “The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows”.
The flight lasted 108 minutes and ended safely when he descended back and parachuted onto a field near the Volga River about 720 kilometers (450 miles) southeast of Moscow. There he was spotted by two peasant women who were frightened to death by the stranger in his space suit. “It looks like you have come from the space”, they uttered, to which Gagarin replied with a smile: “Actually, I have!” (Photo Credit: Alexanda Hulme/Flickr)
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was born in a small village near Smolensk on 9 March 1934. He attended a technical high school and completed military flight training to become a pilot in the Soviet Air Force, where he was selected to become one of 19 aspiring cosmonauts in 1960. When his Vostok 1 was launched, there was an explosion of patriotism in Russia. Thousands of people hurried to Red Square to celebrate, and this spontaneous enthusiasm was very different from the annual party-organized parades.
At the age of 27, Gagarin became an instant worldwide celebrity. He returned to a world changed deeply by his achievement. It seemed that Gagarin had single-handedly won a huge Cold War battle, which became the latest in a long line of space stunts. The United States hurried to put Alan Shepard into his sub-orbital flight on 5 May 1961. Soon after, President John F. Kennedy committed the nation to putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. (Photo Credit: Gruenemann/Flickr)
The name of Yuri Gagarin became popular across the globe and was shrouded in myth and mystery. Gagarin was deemed too valuable to risk on another mission, and never returned to outer space. Instead, he became the deputy training director of the Russian cosmonaut training base.
Later Gagarin received the permission to re-qualify as a fighter pilot. On 27 March 1968, while on a routine training flight, he and his flight instructor died in a MiG-15 crash. On that day Shatalov, the former cosmonaut, sat in his own jet, waiting his turn to take off after Gagarin. He is sure that the shock wave from another plane’s sonic boom was to blame for this tragic accident.
Yuri Gagarin had turned only 34 shortly before his death.
Some 500 men and women cosmonauts from more than 30 countries flew into orbit after Yuri Gagarin. Many countries timed their launches for April 12th, in honor of the first man in space. A few days before the 50-th anniversary of his legendary flight, Yuri Gagarin was in orbit again: a Russian rocket specially painted with his image blasted off from a launch pad towards the International Space Station.
Orbiting Earth in my spaceship, Gagarin said in 1961, I saw how beautiful our planet is. Let us, people, not destroy, but preserve and enhance this beauty!