Col. Yuri Gagarin - The First Man in Space
Colonel Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Russian cosmonaut who had the rare privilege of being the first human to enter space and orbit the earth. This amazing accomplishment occurred in 1961 and has seen Gagarin’s name become immortalized in the pages of history. The groundbreaking event was also one of many that spawned the ‘Space Race’ between Russia and the United States. Though Gagarin only lived for 34 years, he was able to accomplish much during that time and today there are numerous monuments around Russia that are dedicated to his fame.
Yuri Gagarin was born in 1934 in the town of Klushino – a town which was later renamed Gagarin in 1968 in his honor. His parents were manual laborers who worked on a collective farm, though both had a reasonable level of education. Yuri was the third of four children and, like millions of other Soviets, he suffered great hardships during the Second World War. Nevertheless he was noted by teachers for being a hard-working and intelligent child with the occasional mischievous streak. Gagarin climbed his way up to his position as a cosmonaut. He started with an apprenticeship in a metalwork plant and later moved on to attend a technical high school in Saratov where he joined the AeroClub and learned to fly. After completing his technical training and becoming an excellent pilot, Gagarin decided to enroll in the Orenburg Pilot’s School for military flight training. It was here where he gained his MiG-15 wings and where he met Valentina Goryacheva whom he chose to marry. After graduating he was assigned to the Luostari airbase near the Norwegian border.
In 1960, Yuri Gagarin was selected as one of twenty cosmonauts who would be assigned to the soviet space program. The selection process was rigorous and he was subjected to a series of punishing experiments that were designed to test his physical and psychological stamina. He was eventually selected as one of the top two candidates for the first launch since, not only was his performance excellent, but his 5 ft 2 inches height was an advantage in the small Vostok cockpit. On 12 April 1961 he became the first human to travel into space and he started the first human orbit of the earth. Whilst in space he was promoted from Senior Lieutenant to Major – mainly because authorities thought it unlikely that he would survive the descent. Nevertheless Gagarin returned safely and in an instant became a worldwide celebrity. He visited a number of countries to promote his country’s achievement.
Gagarin died in 1968 when his MiG-15UTI ‘Fagot’ plummeted to the earth after a routing training flight near Kirzhach. Today there are a number of monuments dedicated to this legendary Russian. A number of books have been written in his honor and he has had a few coins and even some towns named after him. Make sure you see these monuments to the ‘First Man in Space’ when next you visit Russia.