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Yuri Gagarin

the first man in space

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was born on a collective farm in Klushino, Smolensk Province, Russia, on March 9, 1934, the third of four children born to Alexey Ivanovich, a carpenter and bricklayer, and Anna Timofeyevna, a dairymaid. He started school in Gzhatsk, but his studies were interrupted by the 1941 Nazi invasion of Russia, during which the Gagarin house was occupied.

When he was fifteen, Gagarin became an apprentice foundryman in an agricultural machinery plant at Lyubertsky, outside Moscow. At the same time, he enrolled in evening school. In 1951 he transferred to the Saratov Industrial Technical School, from which he graduated with honours as a foundryman-technician in 1955. In that same year he joined the Saratov Flying Club, made his first solo flight, and earned his wings.

Having developed a love of flying, Gagarin decided to become a pilot instead of a foundryman and spent the summer learning to fly the Yak-18 before enrolling as a cadet at the Orenburg Pilot Training School. In 1957 he graduated with honors from the Soviet Air Force Academy, was promoted to Lieutenant, and became a military fighter pilot. In that same year, he married Valentina Ivanovna Goryacheva, with whom he had two daughters.

In late 1959, Gagarin was one of 3,000 applicants to be the first Soviet cosmonaut. Only 20 of those applicants were ultimately chosen, and Gagarin became one of those 20 on his 26th birthday. After further testing, he was selected to become the first man in space.

On April 12, 1961, Vostok I, with Gagarin on board, was blasted into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Once in orbit, Gagarin had no control over his spacecraft. He made a single revolution of the Earth beforeVostok began its reentry. Although the controls were locked, a key had been placed in a sealed envelope in case an emergency situation made it necessary for Gagarin to take control. As was planned, Gagarin ejected after reentry into Earth's atmosphere (from about 4.35 miles above ground) and landed by parachute. From launch to landing, his flight had lasted 108 minutes. Right before Gagarin landed (near the village of Uzmoriye, near the Volga River), a local farmer and her daughter spotted Gagarin floating down with his parachute. Once on the ground, Gagarin, dressed in an orange spacesuit and wearing a large white helmet, terrified the two women. It took Gagarin a few minutes to convince them that he too was Russian and to direct him to the nearest phone.

Gagarin being honored with a reception in the Kremlin. He is joined by his wife and Premier and Mrs. Nikita Khrushchev.
Gagarin being honored by Khrushchev

Gagarin waves to an enthusiastic crowd in London, England, in July 1961. The cosmonaut was a guest of Queen Elizabeth at a Buckingham Palace luncheon, was honored by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and received the British Interplanetary Medal.
Gagarin in London

Following his historic flight, Gagarin served as an instructor to the other cosmonauts, and became the official deputy to Lieutenant-General Nikolai Kamanin, the chief of the Soviet space programme commission. In 1963 he became Commander of the Cosmonaut Detachment and was made responsible for all projects connected with lunar exploration. By August 1966 he was back in the active space program, as back-up to Vladimir Komarov, the Soyuz 1 pilot. Unfortunately, the Soviet space programme suffered a major reverse when Komarov was killed during his return to Earth.

Colonel Yuri Gagarin died on March 27, 1968, when the MiG-15 he was piloting crashed near Moscow; he was training for a planned Soviet mission to the Moon at the time.

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This page was last updated on 09/21/2018.