On April 12, 1961, Soviet Union Air Force pilot Yuri Gagarin blasted off into space aboard Vostock 1 and became the first Man in Space. A modified R-7 ballistic missile, re-designated as Vostok-K, was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 6:07am local time. Some 108 minutes later, Gagarin had landed after a complete Earth orbit, startling a peasant farmer and her granddaughter near the town of Engels, not far from the Volga River. Gagarin assured them that he was human like them and asked them to contact Moscow. He became an overnight sensation, eventually touring the world, including a trip to London meeting Queen Elizabeth of England. Now, 50 years later, Russian cosmonauts Ron Garan and Alexander Samokutyayev will commemorate Gagarin’s flight on board the International Space Station, which has had continuous human occupation for more than a decade.

yuri gagarin first man in space

When Yuri Gagarin made his historic first man in space flight 50 years ago, it reinforced the Soviet Union′s previous milestone when they launched Sputnik in 1957. More than ever, the Cold War turned into a Space Race, with America behind. Yet, while the politicians exploited the event to their purposes, men like Gagarin, Titov, and the Mercury 7 astronauts were pilots first. They were brave, unassuming men who had basically one goal, to fly! That they had a chance to fly faster, higher and farther appealed to them as well. Gagarin′s biggest concern that April morning was whether there would be enough sausages and moonshine for his victory flight to Moscow after wards.

Gagarin never flew in space again after his one orbit. He almost was not the first, as the final decision was made just three days before the launch. Even then, both he and Gherman Titov, who would later spend a full day in orbit, both donned their spacesuits on the morning of April 12, 1961. But Gagarin got the nod to fly. He was well thought of by his comrades, and was quite the ice hockey player, too! So Yuri Gagarin scored a goal for the Soviet Union by being the first man in space. Modern day cosmonauts Ron Garan and Alexander Samokutyayev will commemorate the 50th anniversary of manned space flight on board the International Space Station. Next month, Part Two of this series remembers the first American in space, Alan B. Shepard.

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