This article has been written in honour of Yuri’s Night, celebrated worldwide every year on the 12th of April.
One of the most inspiring figures in spaceflight history is Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin, a Russian Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, was the first human in space. He made history when he completed one orbit of the Earth in the Vostok spacecraft on the 12th of April.
Yuri Gagarin was born in 1934 in a small village called Klushino, in Russia. His parents worked on a farm, and he had two brothers and a sister. However, it was an unfortunate time as millions of people were affected by the Nazi occupation during World War II. Gagarin and his family were no different—in 1941, when Yuri was about 7 years old, a Nazi officer took over his family’s home. Yuri and his family were made to live in a tiny mud hut in the backyard of their home for nearly two years. After the end of the war, the family moved to the nearby town of Gzhatsk in 1946.
When he was 16, Yuri started an apprenticeship as a foundryman at a steel plant near Moscow, while simultaneously enrolling in evening classes. He graduated a year later from both the apprenticeship and evening classes and was then selected to train at the Saratov Industrial Technical School. In his spare time there, Yuri trained on weekends as a Soviet Air Cadet and learned to fly at a flying club.
After his graduation from the Technical School in 1955, Yuri was drafted by the Soviet Army, and sent to the First Chkalov Air Force Pilot’s School in Orenburg. There, Yuri flew a MiG-15 fighter jet solo in 1957. After graduating, he became a Lieutenant in the Soviet Air Forces in November 1957. Two years later, in 1959—Yuri Gagarin became a Senior Lieutenant, at the age of 25.
The First Man in Space
In 1960, Yuri and 19 other pilots were chosen for the Soviet space program through an extensive search and selection process. From this group of 20 pilots, Yuri and 5 other men were selected for the elite Sochi Six training group. Finally, Yuri was chosen to be a cosmonaut for the first launch of the Vostok spacecraft.
The Vostok 1 was launched with Yuri onboard on 12th April 1961, at 6.07am UTC from Kazakhstan. The spacecraft orbited for 108 minutes and then returned to Earth. Yuri Gagarin had now become the first human in space, as well as the first to orbit the Earth. As the Vostok had no engines to slow down its re-entry to Earth, Yuri ejected 7 km above the landing site and parachuted to Earth.
Post-Journey into Space
The aftermath of his journey into space saw Yuri Gagarin become a celebrated hero, not only for the Soviet Space Program, but also worldwide. He was awarded the title of ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’, and toured abroad extensively to promote the Soviet Union putting the first human into space.
The year after his flight, in 1962, Yuri became the Deputy to the Soviet of the Union and was elected to the Central Committee of the Young Communist League. He was appointed a Lieutenant Colonel of the Soviet Air Forces; then in 1963, a Colonel—at the age of 29.
The next few years were spent by Yuri working on designs for a reusable spacecraft at a cosmonaut facility, as well as being involved with his various elected roles and promotional events. Sadly, on 27th March 1968, the first man in space died at the young age of 34, in a plane crash while in a training flight with an instructor.
Yuri Gagarin left behind an inspirational legacy, which still continues to motivate millions to this day. Yuri’s Night is celebrated every year on this day, the 12th of April, worldwide to honour the milestone Yuri Gagarin set as being the first human and space and inspiring those who came after him.
If you liked this article, please like and share! This story was originally published on my WordPress blog ‘The Wonders of the Cosmos’, here.