Yuri Gagarin   First Man to Fly into Space
Photo: The Verge

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space

Yuri Gagarin was the first person to fly in space. His flight, on April 12, 1961, lasted 108 minutes as he circled the Earth for a little more than one orbit in the Soviet Union's Vostok spacecraft. Following the flight, Gagarin became a cultural hero in the Soviet Union. Even today, more than six decades after the historic flight, Gagarin is widely celebrated in Russian space museums, with numerous artifacts, busts and statues displayed in his honor. His remains are buried at the Kremlin in Moscow, and part of his spacecraft is on display at the RKK Energiya museum, according to Space.

Yuri Gagarin   First Man to Fly into Space
Yuri Gagarin - the first man to fly into space. Photo: Greenlane

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, the Soviets sent a test flight into space using a prototype of the Vostok spacecraft. During this flight, they sent a life-size dummy called Ivan Ivanovich and a dog named Zvezdochka into space. After the test flight, the Soviet's considered the vessel fit to take a human into space.

A puzzling and tragic end

In 1968, just years after his historic mission, Gagarin’s life suddenly ended while he was taking part in a routine flight test. Some, though, think there is more to the tragedy.

In an article in Air and Space magazine, the author tells of the many conspiracy theories that exist on how Gagarin mysteriously died. Research teams are still attempting to find answers to Gagarin’s untimely demise, Space Center cites.

The world continues to honor his groundbreaking accomplishment, one that proved humans could fly in space, and a feat that marked the beginning of human spaceflight.

Competition turns to teamwork

When Gagarin lifted off into space, it was considered a major blow to the United States.

The Space Race was on and the Soviet Union had a leg up. Alan Shepard launched later that month, but would not orbit the Earth. In fact, it would be almost a year before John Glenn accomplished this goal.

Yuri Gagarin   First Man to Fly into Space
Photo: History.com

In time, however, the U.S. and the Soviet Union began to work together. The first co-op project between the two nations was the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which paved the way for future joint missions. Then, there was the Shuttle-Mir co-op that began in 1994. In 1998, in-orbit construction of the ISS was underway.

Today, U.S. astronauts launch aboard Soyuz spacecraft and live and work aboard ISS next to Russian cosmonauts.

Not forgotten

On July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first people to land on the Moon.

When they left the surface of the Moon, they left behind many things. Some of those items include an American flag, a plaque, a small disc with messages from U.S. and world leaders, an Apollo 1 mission patch left in memory of the crew who tragically lost their lives in a fire, and medals of Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin.

Astronauts often overlooked politics to honor other space explorers out of mutual respect. The Apollo 11 crew took Gagarin’s medal along with them on their historic journey that summer of ’69, and left it behind on the Moon, a place that only a select few have had the privilege of visiting.

Gagarin’s memory continues to be honored by current astronauts and cosmonauts who visit the Kremlin Wall, where his ashes remain.

Even the launchpad Gagarin used in 1961 at Baikonur Cosmodrome is still operational and launches ISS missions to this day.

Aside from statues and monuments, Yuri continues to be honored every year for his groundbreaking accomplishment on Yuri’s Night, a worldwide celebration held on the anniversary of his historic flight!

Communities all around the globe continue to celebrate the monumental achievement of the Russian cosmonaut who dared to do what no person had before, on this day 58 years ago.

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 to make an emergency landing near his home. When offered a chance years later to join a flying club, he eagerly accepted, 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 as cosmonaut candidates. Such pilots were considered optimal because they had exposure to the forces of acceleration and the ejection process, as well as experience with high-stress situations. Gagarin, a 27-year-old senior lieutenant at the time, was among the pilots selected.

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