Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin
Vostok K Rocket
Vostok 3KA Capsule/Spacecraft
Vostok Control Panel
Soviet Launch Complex, European Space Agency Logos
Fifty years ago this month, a young Russian military pilot, standing just 5'2'' tall and wearing a comically over-sized helmet that would later become an icon, was strapped into a capsule atop the Vostok-1 rocket and fired into space. His mission lasted just 108 minutes, but it turned him into the first cosmonaut--the first human to journey into space. This was 1961, and in the USSR. Here's a look at the technology they used, and how it's impacted the space programs of today.
Born March 9, 1934, Yuri Gagarin's life must've been a parallel to many thousands of other young men at the time. He was born in a moderately remote village to working-class parents, then went to school and worked hard so things could change. After doing well, he joined the Soviet Air Force and achieved the rank of Senior Lieutenant in November 1959.
Then everything changed. In 1960, he was one of 20 pilots chosen for the Soviet space program, and performed well enough that when the critical moment came, he was chosen to be the first man to fly into space--testing out a huge range of experimental and unproven technology. His April 12, 1961 flight made history. But it was his only journey into space--he was afterwards too precious a national asset to risk in such experimental technology.
Gagarin died March 27th, 1968, in a crash in his MiG-15 aircraft, during what is now thought to be a training accident caused by extreme maneuvers.