Exactly sixty years ago, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin made history by becoming the first human in space.
On the morning of April 12, 1961, the 27-year-old former fighter pilot Yuri Gagarin climbed in his Vostok vessel on top of an R-7 rocket, initially developed as an intercontinental ballistic missile, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. He began his mission with a cheerful “here we go,” before taking off. The mission had been kept a complete secret, even to Gagarin’s family, as many did not believe in his survival.
Yet 11 minutes after launch, the spacecraft enters into orbit and begins a revolution around the Earth at around 28,000 kilometers (17,000 miles) per hour. Gagarin thus became the first man to travel in space and the first man to orbit the Earth. 55 minutes after launch, the TASS news agency announced to the world the existence and success of the mission, taking the United States by surprise. Despite a malfunction in the separation of his spacecraft, Gagarin managed to eject and deploy his parachute. He landed near a farm by the Volga, from where he phoned Moscow to announce the success of his mission.
Gagarin was then appointed responsible for the selection and training of cosmonauts and took part in the command of the following flight missions, ensuring radio link with the cosmonaut in flight. He died in the crash of a MiG-15UTI trainer on March 27, 1968. The most probable cause of the accident was a sudden maneuver intended to avoid a weather balloon.
Sixty years later, Yuri Gagarin remains a hero in Russia and beyond. On April 9, 2021, a Soyuz rocket decorated for the occasion with the profile of Gagarin took off from Baikonur towards the ISS with two Russian cosmonauts and a US astronaut on board.