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The first man in space

PUBLISHED: 10:11 12 April 2017 | UPDATED: 10:12 12 April 2017

Major Yuri Gagarin waving to the crowds as he boards a plane at London airport to fly home to the Soviet Union after his visit to Britain in July 1961. Picture: PA WIRE

Major Yuri Gagarin waving to the crowds as he boards a plane at London airport to fly home to the Soviet Union after his visit to Britain in July 1961. Picture: PA WIRE

Today the world celebrates Yuri’s Night, marking the day Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin went into space and orbited Earth.

Yuri Gagarin wearing his beaming smileYuri Gagarin wearing his beaming smile

In 1961 the world witnessed the first human being launched into a spaceship to orbit the planet and return to earth safe and sound.

The Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first person into space when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on April 12 1961. His time in space? One hour 48 minutes.

The single orbit skimmed Earth’s upper atmosphere at 169 kilometers (91 nautical miles) at its lowest point. Gagarin parachuted to the ground separately from his capsule after ejecting at (23,000 ft).

He landed 280km to the west of the planned landing site.

People watch the launch of a model rockets during a celebration of the 54th anniversary of Russia's Yuri Gagarin's first manned flight into space, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 12 2015. Picture: AP PHOTO/ DMITRY LOVETSKYPeople watch the launch of a model rockets during a celebration of the 54th anniversary of Russia's Yuri Gagarin's first manned flight into space, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 12 2015. Picture: AP PHOTO/ DMITRY LOVETSKY

A farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”

His space flight was a short span of time but it was a giant step for mankind as space exploration burgeoned, culminating, of course, in man setting a first foot on the moon in 1969.

Fruit flies had been the first creatures to be sent into space (according to the strict definition of space). In 1947. Subsequently, mice, a rabbit, dogs, monkeys and frogs were launched into space.

Having crossed the final frontier, Gagarin immediately became an international celebrity, and was awarded many medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation’s highest honour. Vostok 1 was his only spaceflight, but he was to become deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre outside Moscow, which was later named after him. Gagarin died in 1968, aged 34, when the MiG-15 training jet he was piloting crashed.

Yuri Gagarin, the first human to orbit the earthYuri Gagarin, the first human to orbit the earth

Yuri Gagarin was born in 1934, the third of four children in his family. His father was a carpenter and bricklayer, and his mother a milkmaid. In 1950, Gagarin was apprenticed as a foundryman at a steel plant near Moscow but also sought further education at evening classes. In 1951 he was put forward for further training at a technical school where he studied tractors. He also learned to fly as a Soviet air cadet.

In 1955, Gagarin was drafted into the army and was sent to train as an air force pilot. By the end of 1959 he had achieved the rank of Senior Lieutenant and in 1960 he was one of 20 candidates selected for the Soviet Space Programme. Gagarin and Gherman Totov were chosen for the first launch. One of the reasons for their selection was their stature. Space was limited in the Vostock cockpit and both men were quite short – Gagarin was 5ft 2in tall. In the end it was decided Gagarin would be the first person to journey into outer space.

Some sources have claimed that during his flight Gagarin commented: “I don’t see any God up here,” but no such words appear in the verbatim record of his conversations.

Gagarin’s orbit of Earth was a triumph for the Soviet space programme and the cosmonaut became a national hero and a worldwide celebrity. He toured widely abroad, visiting the UK (London and Manchester) three months after his mission, and he also went to Italy, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Egypt and Finland.

His celebrity came at a price, however. He was banned from training for or taking part in further spaceflights as the Russian authorities prized him too highly to put him at risk.

But on March 27 1968, on a routine training flight he and flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin died in a MiG-15UTI crash. The cremated remains of the two men were buried in the walls of the Kremlin. The cause of the crash was believed to be a stall after a sharp manoeuvre.

Gagarin is survived by his wife Valentina, and daughters Yelena and Galina.

Among the many worldwide tributes to Gagarin is a statue in London which now stands in Greenwich. April 12 is celebrated as Cosmonautics Day in Russia and other post-Soviet states. In 2011 it was declared the International Day of Human Space Flight by the United Nations. Since 2001, Yuri’s Night, an international celebration, is held every 12 April to commemorate milestones in space exploration (In the UK celebrations are taking place in Edinburgh, Brighton, Newcastle and Welwyn Garden City)

(Source: Wikipedia and

The launch

Launch control to Gagarin: “Preliminary stage..... intermediate..... main..... lift off. We wish you a good flight. Everything is all right.”

Gagarin: “Poyekhali! (Let’s go!).

Gargarin quotes:

• “Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship I marvelled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it!”

• “Looking at the Earth from afar, you realise it is too small for conflict and just big enough for co-operation.”

• “The main force in man – is the power of the spirit.”

The very first orbit

In 1957 The first creature launched into orbit around Earth was Laika, the dog, a mongrel – possibly part husky and part terrier. Laika, a stray found wandering the streets of Moscow, was aboard Sputnik 2 (nicknamed ‘Muttnik’ in the West). Laika died during the flight.

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