On the 12th April, 1961, just 58 years ago, the Soviet Union CCCP (Союз Советских Социалистических Республик) launched Vostok 1 (Восто́к 1) into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome (Космодро́м Байкону́р), in southern Kazakhstan (Республика Казахстан) with just one passenger, the Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin (Ю́рий Алексе́евич Гага́рин). Vostok only spent 108 minutes in flight, which involved one complete orbit of the Earth at a maximum of 187 miles, but the 27 year old Gagarin was the first human to reach space, and became an instant superstar.
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was born 9th March, 1934, in Klushino (Клу́шино) formerly the Soviet Union, to a farming family, and as a boy, Yuri, like many Russians, had to endure Nazi occupation during World War II. In 1950 at the age of sixteen he began an apprenticeship, and at weekends studied as a Soviet Air Cadet in Orenburg (Оренбург), which he graduated from in 1957.
In 1960, Yuri was one of twenty candidates selected to participate in the Soviet Space program, that was determined to beat the United States of America into space. Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (Никита Хрущёв), who was the premier of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, selected Yuri when it came down to the two final candidates, Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov (Герман Степанович Титов)
It took five years of extensive research, development and testing, and seven unmanned test–flights, and almost fifty flights of the R–7 rocket, that was to launch the Vostok 1 capsule, before the image above was photographed in preparation for its flight. Out of the trial flights there were many failures, mishaps, and malfunctions, and Yuri literally took his life in his hands when he stepped aboard the craft that was going to make history. The pressure was on with America breathing down the Soviet’s neck in the Cold War race to venture into the unknown, and risks were taken.
Only now do we realise the personal sacrifice that Yuri went through, and it’s impossible to imagine the isolation and emotions that he must have felt being the first human, alone, to look down at the planet Earth as a whole. I know what it’s like to watch a movie alone, or to listen to an album alone, and upon its completion wishing to discuss and share the experience, but how could Yuri do this? He was the only man to have ever reached such altitude, and he had no one that he could share this experience with. No one in the history of humans has experienced such isolation and loneliness as Yuri Gagarin experienced those 58 years ago. Yuri Gagarin deserves to be a household name!