April 12th 1961: Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space

On this day in 1961, the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into outer space. Gagarin, a fighter pilot, was the successful candidate for the mission, being selected by Russian space programme director Sergei Korolev. Russia already had a lead in the Space Race, having launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, which was the first satellite in space. On April 12th 1961, Gagarin left Earth aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, famously declaring ‘Poyekhali!’ (which means ‘Let’s go!’ in Russian). He spent 108 minutes completing an orbit of the planet. Upon re-entering the atmosphere, Gagarin executed a successful ejection and landed by parachute in rural Russia, to the consternation of locals. Yuri Gagarin became famous worldwide and a Russian hero, being awarded the nation’s highest honour - Hero of the Soviet Union. Gagarin died in 1968 when the training plane he was piloting crashed; his ashes were buried in the walls of the Kremlin.

“Don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”
- Gagarin to some stunned farmers when he landed


Советский космонавт Юрий Алексеевич Гагарин, совершивший первый полет в космос 12 апреля 1961 года.

The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space when he made a full orbit of Earth in Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961.


March 9, 1934: Yuri Gagarin is born in Klushino, Smolensk Oblast.

On April 12, 1961, this Soviet cosmonaut became the first human to travel into space and orbit the earth. After his historic spaceflight aboard Vostok 1, Gagarin became an international celebrity, loved by both the Russian people and by people all over the world. Above, we can see the charming, jolly smile that eased Cold War tensions and won him many fans.

Unlike his NASA counterparts, who mostly grew up in quiet Midwestern towns, Gagarin lived through the Nazi occupation of his country - an occupation that forced two members of his family into slave labor and the rest into a dismal living in a mud hut. His modest background, coupled with his humble appearance (he stood only 5'2" or 1.57 meters tall), made him all the more accessible. Sadly, the world’s first human spaceflight was also Gagarin’s last - he died in 1968 in a jet crash.

The control panel from Vostok 1, the first human spaceflight. The Vostok 3KA spacecraft was launched on April 12, 1961 and took Yuri Gagarin, a cosmonaut from the Soviet Union into space. Due to concerns of adverse reactions from experiencing weightlessness, the manual controls on the spacecraft were locked prior to launch so the flight could be controlled by ground personnel.