BBC Sky at Night Magazine
The life of a legend
Yuri Gagarin’s flight took him from foundry man to international superstar
Born on 9 March 1934 on a collective farm in the village of Klushino, 200km west of Moscow in the Smolensk Oblast province, Yuri Gagarin’s fascination with flying machines began at an early age. He spent many of his school days building model aircraft and learning about the Soviet air heroes of the Second World War.
At 16, he was employed by the local foundry and quickly earned himself a place at a technical school in Saratov, where he joined a local flying club. By 1955, he was enrolled at the Air Force’s pilot school where he met and married Valentina Goryacheva – the couple went on to have two daughters.
By 1959, Gagarin was secretly selected for the first ever class of cosmonauts, where he proved himself capable and popular. When the Vostok-1 mission was being selected, he was a clear frontrunner alongside his colleague Gherman Titov. In the end, Gagarin’s rise from a farm to a foundry to the stars was seen as the best embodiment of Soviet ideals.
Afterwards, Yuri Gagarin became an international celebrity. Though he was initially kept on as a cosmonaut, when the first flight of the new Soyuz craft resulted in its pilot’s death, Gagarin was deemed too valuable an asset. He was banned from spaceflight permanently.
But despite this precaution, on 27 March 1968 Gagarin was killed when the MiG-15UTI fighter jet he was flying crashed during a training exercise. Today, dozens of streets and towns bear his name, while monuments to him can be found worldwide, commemorating the man who rose from the Earth to reach the stars.