Who Was Yuri Gagarin?

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Yuri Gagarin, the first human to fly to space. alldayru.com

Every April, people around the world celebrate the life and works of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. He was the first person to travel into outer space and the first to orbit our planet. He accomplished all this in an 108-minute flight on April 12, 1961. During his mission, he commented on the feeling of weightlessness that everyone who ever goes into space experiences. In many ways, he was a pioneer of spaceflight, putting his life on the line not just for his country, but for the human exploration of outer space.

 

For Americans who remember his flight, Yuri Gagarin's space feat was something they watched with mixed feelings: yes, it was great that he was the first man to go to space, which was exciting. His was a much-sought-after achievement by the Soviet space agency at a time when his country and the United States were very much at odds with each other. However, they also had bittersweet feelings about it because NASA hadn't done it first for the U.S.A. Many felt the agency had somehow failed or was being left behind in the race for space.

The flight of Vostok 1 was a milestone in human spaceflight, and Yuri Gagarin put a face on the exploration of stars. 

The Life and Times of Yuri Gagarin

Gagarin was born on March 9, 1934. As a young adult, he took flight training at a local aviation club, and his flying career continued in the military. He was selected for the Soviet space program in 1960, part of a group of 20 cosmonauts who were in training for a series of missions that were planned to take them to the Moon and beyond.

On April 12, 1961, Gagarin climbed into his Vostok capsule and launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome—which remains today as Russia's premier launch site. The pad he launched from is now called "Gagarin's Start". It's also the same pad that the Soviet space agency launched the famous Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957.

A month after Yuri Gagarin's flight to space, U.S. astronaut Alan Shephard, Jr., made HIS first flight to and the "race to space" went into high gear. Yuri was named "Hero of the Soviet Union", traveled the world talking of his accomplishments, and rose quickly through the ranks of Soviet Air Forces. He was never allowed to fly to space again, and became the deputy training director for the Star City cosmonaut training base. He continued flying as a fighter pilot while working on his aerospace engineering studies and writing his thesis about future space planes.

Yuri Gagarin died on a routine training flight on March 27, 1968, one of many astronauts to die in space flight accidents ranging from the Apollo 1 disaster to the Challenger and Columbia shuttle mishaps. There has been much speculation (never proven) that some nefarious activities led to his crash. It's far more likely that erroneous weather reports or an air vent failure led to the deaths of Gagarin and his flight instructor, Vladimir Seryogin. 

Yuri's Night

Since 1962, there has always been a celebration in Russia (Former Soviet Union) called "Cosmonautics Day", to commemorate Gagarin's flight to space. "Yuri's Night" began in 2001 as a way to celebrate his achievements and those of other astronauts in space.

Many planetariums and science centers hold events, and there are celebrations at bars, restaurants, universities, Discovery Centers, observatories (such as Griffith Observatory), private homes and many other venues where space enthusiasts gather. To find more about Yuri's Night, simply "Google" the term for activities. 

Today, astronauts on the International Space Station are the latest to follow him into space and live in Earth orbit. In the future of space exploration, people may well start living and working on the Moon, studying its geology and mining its resources, and preparing for trips to an asteroid or to Mars. Perhaps they, too, will celebrate Yuri's Night and tip their helmets in memory of the first man to head to space.