On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into space and the first man to orbit the earth. Blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (present day Kazakhstan), the 27 year old cosmonaut made his historic voyage into space aboard Vostok 1 spacecraft.
Reaching an orbital speed of 27,400 kilometers per hour, and an altitude up to 327 kilometers above the earth, the space flight lasted 108 minutes (enough time to orbit the earth once). Upon reentry into earth's atmosphere, Gagarin ejected from the Vostok 1 space capsule (at approximately 7000 meters above sea level) and landed safely by parachute.
While the first to see Gagarin return to the planet were purportedly an old woman, her granddaughter, and a cow, it didn't take long for news of his successful mission to spread. Honored in his homeland with the title Hero of the Soviet Union, Yuri Gagarin also became a name celebrated and immortalized around the world, a world he affectionately observed on his historic space flight.
"What beauty. I saw clouds and their light shadows on the distant dear earth.... The water looked like darkish, slightly gleaming spots.... When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth's light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquoise, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black."
Unfortunately the historic 1961 space flight was Yuri Gagarin's first and only mission into space. The celebrated Soviet cosmonaut was killed on March 27, 1968 while flying a MiG-15 in a training exercise. At the time of the crash, the 34 year old colonel was in training for a second mission.
Yuri Gagarin Facts
Russian Name: Юрий Алексеевич Гагарин
Date of Birth: March 9, 1934
Place of Birth: Klushino, Soviet Union
Date of Death: March 27, 1968
Cause of Death: Plane crash during training
Rank: Colonel (Polkovnik), Soviet Air Force
Space Mission: Vostok 1 (April 12, 1961)
Height: 1.57 meters (5ft 2in)
Yuri Gagarin - Biography
Yuri Gagarin - The First Man in Space
Yuri Gagarin - Return to a Hero's Welcome