The First Human in Space
Russia picked Yuri Gagarin for the first spaceflight
POYEKHALI! Off we go! With these words Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin shot into the sky in his Vostok and became the first person ever to fly into space and orbit Earth. He was very calm, but back on the ground the Vostok developer Sergei Korolev was so nervous he had to be given tranquillisers. It was a highly dangerous mission – so dangerous Gagarin left a letter for his wife Valentina saying it was unlikely he would return.
Fortunately she never received the letter because the mission turned out to be a huge success, turning Gagarin into an overnight celebrity. After the flight he toured the world and even had lunch with Queen Elizabeth.
“I see Earth – it is so beautiful,” Gagarin radioed as he sped over Siberia and Japan. A nd1 08 minutes later the orbit was complete, the capsule started to descend and seven kilometres above Earth, Gagarin ejected from the spacecraft and parachuted down while the capsule crashed to the ground.
Gagarin, an air force pilot, was known to be incredibly focused. This and his quick reactions were two qualities that secured him the opportunity to take the first spaceflight. His short stature also helped – at 1,57 m tall, he was one of fe ww ho could actually fit into the tiny Vostok capsule.
Yelena Gagarina, one of his two daughters, described her father as outgoing and a keen sportsman. He was also modest and a brilliant mathematician – and he had a smile that “lit up the Cold War”, said Korolev, who was lead Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer in the Space Race.
Gagarin began military flight training in 1955 at age 21 and in 1960 he was selected for the Soviet space programme.
Officially, America congratulated the Soviet Union on the historic milestone. Unofficially, the yw ere annoyed that the Russians were first to put a human in space. The yw ere also concerned that the Soviets could now launch nuclear weapons from space.
Gagarin never made another spaceflight – authorities decided he was too valuable to be exposed to such danger.
Ironically, he died while on a routine training flight on 27 March 1968 when his MiG-15 fighter plane crashed in the Russian town of Kirzhach. He was just 34 years old.
When Americans Neil Armstrong and Bu zzA ldrin became the first people on the moon in 1969, they left behind a satchel with medals commemorating, among others, Gagarin.