Yuri Gagarin was the first man on Earth to fly into outer space.
His courageous feat took place on April 12, 1961, when a young soviet officer circled (around) the Earth for a little more than one orbit aboard the Vostok spacecraft. The flight lasted 108 minutes. Following his successful landing, Gagarin became a cultural hero in the Soviet Union. Even today, more than six decades after the historic flight, Gagarin is internationally recognized. Many streets in different countries are named after Gagarin. Numerous artifacts, busts and statues are displayed in his honor in space museums. His remains are buried at the Kremlin in Moscow, and part of his spacecraft is on display at the museum of “RKK Energiya”, a leading Russian manufacturer of space-rocket hardware.
Gagarin’s flight came at a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for technological supremacy in space. The Soviet Union had already sent the first artificial satellite, called Sputnik, into space in October 1957.
Before Gagarin’s mission succeeded, the Soviets had conducted a test flight using a prototype of the Vostok spacecraft. During that flight, they sent a life-size dummy called Ivan Ivanovich (a Russian way of calling John Doe) and a dog named Zvezdochka (a little star), into space. Judging by the results of the test flight, the Soviet engineers considered the vessel fit to take a human into space.
Becoming a legendary astronaut. The third of four children, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was born on March 9, 1934, in a small village a hundred miles from Moscow. As a teenager, Gagarin witnessed a Russian Yak fighter plane make an emergency landing near his home. When offered a chance years later to join a flying club, he eagerly accepted it, making his first solo flight in 1955. Only a few years later, he submitted his request to be considered as a cosmonaut.
More than 200 Russian Air Force fighter pilots were selected to participate in cosmonaut program training. Those pilots were considered optimal because of their exposure to enormous forces of acceleration and the ejection process, as well as rich experience of high-stress situations. Yuri Gagarin, a 27-year-old senior lieutenant at the time, was among the pilots selected.
On April 12, 1961, at 9:07 a.m. Moscow time, the Vostok 1 spacecraft blasted off from the Soviets’ launch site. Because no one was certain how weightlessness would affect a pilot, the spherical capsule had little in the way of onboard controls; the work was done either automatically or from the ground. If an emergency arose, Gagarin was supposed to receive an override code that would allow him to take manual control, but Sergei Korolev, chief designer of the Soviet space program, disregarded protocol and gave the code to the pilot prior to the flight.
Over the course of 108 minutes, Vostok 1 traveled around the Earth once, reaching a maximum height of 203 miles (327 kilometers). The spacecraft carried 10 days’ worth of provisions in case the engines failed and Gagarin was required to wait until the Earth’s gravity would pull the spacecraft back into atmosphere. But the supplies were unnecessary. Gagarin re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, managing to maintain consciousness as he experienced forces up to eight times the pull of gravity during his descent. The design of Vostok 1 space rocket did not provide extra engines to slow down its re-entry into atmosphere that would ensure a safe landing of the space capsule. About 4 miles (7 km) up, Gagarin ejected from the spacecraft and parachuted to Earth. In order for the mission to be counted as an official spaceflight, the Federation Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the governing body for aerospace records, had determined that the pilot must land with the spacecraft. Soviet leaders indicated that Gagarin had touched down with the Vostok 1, and they did not reveal that he had ejected until 1971. Regardless, Gagarin still set the record as the first person to leave Earth’s orbit and travel into space.
Gagarin’s legacy. Upon his return to Earth, Gagarin became an international hero. A cheering crowd of hundreds of thousands of people greeted him in Red Square, the major public plaza in Moscow. A national treasure, Gagarin traveled around the world to celebrate the historic achievement Soviet science. Beyond that, Gagarin is often held up as an example of character and heroism to younger children in Russia.
The people of Russia as well as the international community commemorate Gagarin’s achievement annually. In 2011 the date of April 12th was officially proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Day of Human Space Flight. The 60th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight will be in 2021.
Source: Embassy of the Russian Federation