Yuri Gagarin

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Yuri Gagarin (Russian: Юрий Гагарин; 9th March 1934 - 27th March 1968) was the first human to go into space. A former fighter pilot in the air force of the Soviet Union, Gagarin later trained as a cosmonaut. He launched in Vostok 1 on 12th April 1961, orbiting Earth once for a total of 108 minutes before safely returning.[1]


Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin was born on 9th March 1934 as the third of four children in Klushino, a village about 100 miles west of Moscow. His parents were collective farmers, and his father also worked as a cabinet-maker and bricklayer while his mother was a milkmaid. After World War II, the family moved to Gziatsk.[2]

The teenage Gagarin witnessed a damaged fighter plane make an emergency landing near his home and the pilots emerge safely, which inspired him to go into flying. After joining a technical college in Saratov, he joined a flying club and made his first solo flight in 1955. Gagarin achieved highly, later joining the Soviet Air Force and learning to fly MiGs at the Orenburg Aviation School. It was there that he met his future wife, Valentina Ivanovna Goryacheva. They were married in November 1957, the same day that Gagarin graduated from flight school.[3] Their daughters were born in 1959 and 1961.

Space flight

Gagarin had keenly followed the space race and applied to join the Soviet space programme in 1959. His family moved to 'Star City', a specially-built residence for cosmonauts outside Moscow, and Gagarin embarked on a rigorous training programme before making the historic flight on 12th April 1961.[4]


Gagarin returned to a hero's welcome and travelled the world as a Soviet cultural ambassador. However, he was soon eager to return to space and to flying. On 27th March 1968, the fighter jet he was test-piloting crashed, killing Gagarin and his instructor. His ashes were buried at the Kremlin Wall.[5]


Gagarin's name remains central to the historical account of early space flight. The Apollo 15 astronauts left a plaque bearing his name and that of other early space pioneers on the Moon in 1971.[6] The Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center at Star City is one of many places, engineering works and monuments named after him.