Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet cosmonaut who in 1961 became the
first human to travel into space, as well as orbit the Earth.
Yuri Gagarin was born in Klushino near Gzhatsk, a region west
of Moscow, Russia, on March 9, 1934 (the town would be renamed
Gagarin in 1968 to honour Yuri), and his parents worked on a collective
farm. While manual laborers are described in official reports
as "peasants", this is something of an exaggeration;
his mother was reportedly a voracious reader, and his father a
skilled carpenter. Yuri was the third of four children, and his
elder sister helped raise him while his parents worked.
millions of people in the Soviet Union, the Gagarin family suffered
great hardship in World War II. His two elder siblings were taken
away to Germany in 1943, and did not return until after the war.
His teachers described Gagarin as intelligent and hard-working,
if occasionally mischievous. His mathematics teacher flew in the
Red Army Air Force during the war, which presumably made some
substantial impression on young Gagarin.
starting an apprenticeship in a metalworks as a foundryman, Gagarin
was selected for further training at a high technical school in
Saratov. While there, he joined the "AeroClub", and
learned to fly a light aircraft, a hobby that began to take up
an increasing proportion of his time. Through dint of effort,
rather than brilliance, he reportedly mastered both; in 1955,
after completing his technical schooling, he entered military
flight training at the Orenburg Pilot's School.
there he met Valentina Goryacheva, whom he married in 1957, after
gaining his pilot's wings in a MiG-15. After graduating, he was
posted at an airbase in Murmansk region, near the Norwegian border,
where terrible weather made flying risky. As a full-grown man,
Gagarin was 5 feet 2 inches (approx. 157.5cm) tall.
in Soviet space program
In 1960, an extensive search and selection process saw Yuri Gagarin,
amongst 20 other cosmonauts, selected for the Soviet space program.
Along with the other prospective cosmonauts, he was subjected
to a punishing series of experiments designed to test his physical
and psychological endurance, as well as training relating to the
of the 20 selected, eventually the choice for the first to launch
was between Gagarin and Gherman Titov, because of their excellent
performance in training, as well as their physical characteristics
- space was at a premium in the small Vostok cockpit. The choice
of Gagarin, ultimately approved at the highest levels, was probably
made due to Gagarin's modest upbringing and genial, outgoing personality,
as distinct from the middle-class and somewhat aloof Titov.
On April 12, 1961, Gagarin became the first human to travel into
space in Vostok 3KA-2 (Vostok 1). His call sign in this flight
was Cedar (Russian: ????). According to international media, from
orbit Gagarin made the comment, "I don't see any god up here."
There are however no such words in the full verbatim record of
Gagarin's conversations with the Earth during the spaceflight
While in orbit Gagarin was promoted "in the field" from
the lowly rank of Senior Lieutenant to Major - and this was the
rank at which TASS announced him in its triumphant statement during
the time the Soviet authorities thought it was more likely he
would perish during his descent than survive. Returning to Earth,
Gagarin became very famous. Nikita Khrushchev rushed to his side
and Gagarin issued a statement praising the Communist Party of
the Soviet Union as the "organiser of all our victories".
He then toured the world. Khrushchev saw Gagarin's achievement
as a vindication of his policy of strengthening the Soviet Union's
missile forces at the expense of conventional arms. This policy
antagonised the Soviet military establishment and contributed
to Khrushchev's eventual downfall.
After the flight, Gagarin became an instant, worldwide celebrity,
touring widely to promote the Soviet achievement. He proved quite
adept at handling the publicity. However, it appeared to gradually
wear him down, and he began to drink heavily - not helped by difficulties
in his marriage.
October 1961 he severely injured himself in a drunken holiday
escapade while escaping with a young nurse in the Crimea. From
1962 he served as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet, but later returned
to "Star City", the cosmonaut facility, where he worked
on designs for a reusable spacecraft. In 1967, he was selected
as backup for the first Soyuz launch. The Soyuz capsule's parachute
failed during reentry and the craft crashed, killing Vladimir
Gagarin then became deputy training director of the establishment.
In the process of this, he began to requalify as a fighter pilot.
On March 27, 1968 he was killed in a crash of a MiG-15 UTI on
a routine training flight near Kirzhach together with his instructor.
It is uncertain what caused the crash, but a 1986 inquest suggests
that the turbulence from a Su-11 interceptor airplane using its
afterburners may have caused Gagarin's plane to go out of control.
Weather conditions were also poor, which probably contributed
to the inability of Gagarin and the instructor to correct before
that Gagarin was drunk are incorrect — he passed two medical
examinations before the flight, and postmortem tests found no
evidence of alcohol or drugs in his system. A new theory, advanced
by the original crash investigator in 2005, hypothesises that
a cabin vent was accidentally left open by the crew or the previous
pilot, thus leading to oxygen deprivation and leaving the crew
incapable of controlling the aircraft.
Russian press reported he stayed with the aircraft to prevent
it from hitting a school, although this may have been apocryphal.
Although Gagarin is indisputably the first man to survive space
travel, there is a conspiracy theory that the Russians had previously
launched two human beings into orbit prior to Gagarin, but both
cosmonauts died en route or alternatively, one died while one
landed off-course and was held by the Chinese government. The
subject named most often in these theories is Vladimir Ilyushin,
son of the famous Russian airplane designer. The Soviet government
then supposedly suppressed this information to prevent bad publicity
for their space program.
A. Heinlein wrote in his 1960 article "'Pravda' means 'Truth'"
(reprinted in Expanded Universe) that on May 15, 1960, while travelling
in the Soviet Union, in Vilnius (mistakenly called by its Polish
name "Vilno" throughout the article; Vilnius is far
away from Soviet rocket launch sites), he was told by Red Army
cadets that the Soviet Union had launched a man into orbit that
day, but that later the same day it was denied by officials and
that no issues of the Pravda national newspaper could be found
in Vilnius, or reportedly, other Soviet cities. Heinlein wrote
that there was an orbital launch (later said to be unmanned) on
that day but the retro-rockets had fired while the vehicle was
in the wrong attitude, so recovery efforts were unsuccessful.
to Gagarin's biography, Starman, these rumours were likely started
as a result of two Vostok missions, equipped with dummies and
tape recordings of the human voice (to check if the radio worked),
that were made in the period just before Gagarin's flight.
to the NASA NSSDC Master Catalog, on May 15, 1960 Sputnik 4 with
"a self-sustaining biological cabin with a dummy of a man"
in pop culture
1. One of the first references to Gagarin is in the 1971 Paul
Stookey song Ju Les Ver Negre En Cheese. Gagarin is the first
"word" and first two letters of the second "word".
The entire song is written in English with all the spacing between
2. The rock band Ozma released two songs on their Russian Coldfusion
EP and then again on the Doubble Donkey Disc. They were entitled
"The Flight of Yuri Gagarin" and "The Landing of
3. Russian electronica duo PPK's track "ResuRection"
features recordings of Gagarin's flight toward the end of the
4. PJ Harvey has a track on her album Rid of Me called "Yuri-G,"
where she fantasizes about the moon and being a cosmonaut.
5. Gagarin is mentioned by Captain Marko Ramius along with the
Sputnik satellite in the film The Hunt for Red October as an example
of the former greatness of the Soviet Union.
6. Space-rock band Hawkwind has a live concert album titled 'Bring
Me the Head of Yuri Gagarin'.
7. Electronic musician Jean-Michel Jarre released a song called
Hey Gagarin on his album Metamorphoses in 2000.
8. Manu Chao in his song "Infinita Tristeza" (Infinite
Sadness) uses sound collages including a radio voice of Yuri Gagarin.
9. Gorki, a band from Belgium, made a song about Yuri, called
Joerie and placed him on the cover of the song's album.
10. Esbjorn Svensson Trio, swedish pop/jazz trio, recorded in
1999 album called "From Gagarin's Point of View".
11. In the game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Snake gives a
quote that was credited to Gargarin, "The earth was blue,
and there was no God," during a discussion of Russia's first
manned space flight.