Space: The Final Frontier…to Boldly Go Where No Man has Gone Before!
April 12, 1961:
First Man in Space
Yuri Gagarin, age 27, becomes the first man to orbit the Earth aboard the Soviet spacecraft, Vostok 1. He remains in space for an hour and forty-eight minutes before re-entering the atmosphere. This ultimately was Gagarin’s only space flight. He died on March 27, 1968 when the MiG-15 he was piloting crashed near Moscow. Reportedly, at the time of his death, Yuri Gagarin was in training for a second space mission.
In 1960, after much searching and a selection process, Yuri Gagarin was chosen with 19 other pilots for the Soviet space program. Gagarin and other prospective candidates were subjected to experiments designed to test physical and psychological endurance; he also underwent training for the upcoming flight. Out of the twenty selected, the eventual choices for the first launch were Gagarin and Gherman Titov due to their performance during training sessions as well as their physical characteristics — space was limited in the small Vostok cockpit, and both men were rather short. Gagarin was 1.57 metres (5 ft 2 in) tall.
In August 1960, when Gagarin was one of 20 possible candidates, an Air Force doctor evaluated his personality as follows:
Modest; embarrasses when his humor gets a little too racy; high degree of intellectual development evident in Yuriy; fantastic memory; distinguishes himself from his colleagues by his sharp and far-ranging sense of attention to his surroundings; a well-developed imagination; quick reactions; persevering, prepares himself painstakingly for his activities and training exercises, handles celestial mechanics and mathematical formulae with ease as well as excels in higher mathematics; does not feel constrained when he has to defend his point of view if he considers himself right; appears that he understands life better than a lot of his friends.—Soviet Air Force doctor
Gagarin was also a favoured candidate by his peers. When the 20 candidates were asked to anonymously vote for which other candidate they would like to see as the first to fly, all but three chose Gagarin.
The sudden rise to fame took its toll on Gagarin. While acquaintances say Gagarin had been a “sensible drinker”, his touring schedule placed him in social situations where he was always expected to drink. Gagarin was also reportedly caught by his wife in a room with another woman, a nurse named Anna who had aided him after a boating incident earlier in the day, at a Black Sea resort in September 1961. He attempted to escape by leaving through a window and jumping off her second floor balcony, hitting his face on a kerbstone and leaving a permanent scar above his left eyebrow.
Gagarin became an international celebrity, and was awarded many medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation’s highest honour. Vostok 1 marked his only spaceflight, but he served as backup crew to the Soyuz 1 mission (which ended in a fatal crash). Gagarin later became deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre outside Moscow, which was later named after him.
First Man in Space