The Most Influential
People in History
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin
1934 – 1968
Exploration Ranking 22nd of 26
Image of Gagarin and orbital path around the Earth. 20th anniversary of his trip. U.S.S.R stamp from 1981.
On April 12, 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first man to travel into space which opened a new era in humankind’s exploration of the universe. His spaceflight brought him immediate worldwide fame. He was awarded the Order of Lenin and given the titles of Hero of the Soviet Union and Pilot Cosmonaut of the Soviet Union. Monuments went up for him and streets were renamed in his honor across the Soviet Union.
The son of a carpenter on a collective farm, Gagarin graduated as a molder from a trade school near Moscow in 1951. He continued his studies at the industrial college at Saratov and concurrently took a course in flying. On completing this course, he entered the Soviet Air Force cadet school at Orenburg, from which he graduated in 1957.
Gagari’s 4 ¾ ton Vostok 1 spacecraft launched at 9:07 a.m. on April 12, 1961, orbited Earth once in one hour twenty-nine minutes at a maximum altitude of 187 miles (301 km), and landed at 10:55 a.m. in the Soviet Union. His space-ship
traveled at a speed of 5 miles per second or about 18,000 miles per hour. The ship’s return was controlled from the ground—to avoid any effects of weightlessness on Gagarin—and the cosmonaut ejected in a parachute, landing on solid ground.
A month later, the space race escalated when President Kennedy pledged to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. The United States had reacted immediately to the Russians’ historic achievement that placed them ahead in space exploration. Tragically, Gagarin died in a plane crash in 1968, before he could achieve his aim of being the first person on the Moon.
1. Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin by Jamie Doran, 2011.