This year we’re celebrating the 80th anniversary since the first Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was born! In my native city Saratov we have  major celebrations devoted to this event as Yuri Gagarin is connected with Saratov in many ways. He studied and then first flew in the air in this city. He also landed  nearby after his great flight. We’re really proud of all  these facts!

Who was Yuri Gagarin?

Yuri Gagarin was a 27-year-old Soviet Air Force pilot when he made his first and only trip into space. On April 12, 1961 Russia successfully launched the first man into space taking the prize for "The First Man In Space". Yuri Gagarin  orbited the Earth on the spacecraft, Vostok 1, at a speed of 27,400 km. The flight lasted 108 minutes. At the highest point, Gagarin was about 327 kilometers above the Earth.  Upon his triumphant return he instantly became a national treasure. Yuri Gagarin had a charming smile and an open friendly personality.

He was born in the village Klushino, Smolensk region, 160km west of Moscow, in 1934. His parents worked on a collective farm (his father was a carpenter) and Yuri was the third of four children. The war years (World War II) were hard for the Gagarins. The Germans shipped his teenage siblings to slave labour camps and they did not return until 1945.

At 16, Gagarin left for Moscow to apprentice as a foundryman. He was transferred a year later to study tractors at a technical school in Saratov, where he joined an AeroClub and flew, for the first time, in a canvas-clad Yak-18. At 21 he signed up at the Pilots School in Orenburg. On graduation, he was posted to Murmansk, close to the Norwegian border and north of the Arctic Circle. Later Lieutenant Gagarin was chosen for the new cosmonaut training programme.

Gagarin was one of 20 cosmonauts sent to train in the new Star City (later renamed in his honour) outside Moscow. They were subjected to batteries of medical and psychological tests and rigorous physical training, including sessions in centrifuges to prepare them for the G-forces of launch.

Eventually, just two candidates remained: Gagarin and German Titov. Both were smart enough to be the first in space. The decision to give the history-making flight to Gagarin may have been made because the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, wanted a farm boy, like himself.

Titov was distraught, but before his death in 2000, he told the authors of Starman: "Yuri turned out to be the man that everyone loved. They were right to choose Yuri."

They rose at 5.30am on 12 April, though neither Gagarin nor Titov had slept. Both dressed in spacesuits, Titov just in case. They rode to the launch pad Baikonur Cosmodrome ( Kazakhstan now).

There was no countdown, which was a purely dramatic invention of the Americans. Sergei Korolev (the aircraft engineer who sent him into space)  checked with Gagarin three times in the hour leading up to the launch and, at 9.06am, the final commands were given.

"Launch key to 'go' position."

"Air purging."

"Idle run."


As the G-load climbed, Gagarin shouted "Poyekhali!" – Russian for "Let's go!"

As was planned, Gagarin ejected after reentry into Earth's atmosphere (7 km above the Earth) and landed by parachute.  He landed 40 km from Saratov (the city where he made his first flight) near the village of Smelovka. His spacecraft thudded down under its own parachute two miles away. Two schoolgirls witnessed the Vostok landing and described the scene: "It was a huge ball, about two or three metres high. It fell, then it bounced and then it fell again. There was a huge hole where it hit the first time."

His landing was 280 km to the west of the planned landing site (near Baikonur).

A farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, "When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don't be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!"

Colonel Yuri Gagarin died on March 27, 1968 when the MiG-15 he was piloting crashed near Moscow. At the time of his death, Yuri Gagarin was in training for a second space mission.

Yuri Gagarin will be Cosmonaut number 1 in the world for ever!

The Vostok 1 capsule on display

Landing Site near Saratov

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  • Dear teacher Galina,

    Thank You Very Much for your detailed description about late, honorable Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin and his outer space mission. To my best understanding, Yuri Gagarin went to space as a Soviet nationality on behalf of the Soviet Union or USSR. However, his mission to space was a huge landmark of human civilization, so Yuri Gagarin is a global icon and belongs to all of us irrespective of various divisions in the world. It was a huge achievement of humankind! In the case of Columbus, some people believe that Chinese people landed on the New World before Columbus, but as for Yuri Gagarin, it is assured that he was the first human who entered into the outer space. As a global citizen, I’m proud of Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin!

    Good Luck!

  • Hello Galina  

       thank you for your  good information and an exciting blog    

         this is the first time I read about  Yuri Gagarin . He's  a great man          

  • You’re absolutely right, Anele,  nobody knew for sure that he would return (everything was for the first time). And Yuri himself was aware of it. But this fact didn’t stop him to make a flight! Maybe it was possible due to his unique personality. In August 1960, when Gagarin was one of 20 possible candidates, an Air Force doctor evaluated his personality as follows:

    Modest; embarrasses when his humor gets a little too racy; high degree of intellectual development evident in Yuriy; fantastic memory; distinguishes himself from his colleagues by his sharp and far-ranging sense of attention to his surroundings; a well-developed imagination; quick reactions; persevering, prepares himself painstakingly for his activities and training exercises, handles celestial mechanics and mathematical formulae with ease as well as excels in higher mathematics; does not feel constrained when he has to defend his point of view if he considers himself right; appears that he understands life better than a lot of his friends.

    —Soviet Air Force doctor

    Anyway, he became the first human to see the Earth as a blue pearl set against the black expanse of space.

    As for becoming a cosmonaut( astronaut)?  Well, space has some mystery and attraction for me…but it’s here on the Earth. You should have a really strong character and motivation to fly into unknown!

    Thanks for the lovely comment, Anele!

  • That was indeed so brave of him to explore the unknown, to go beyond what our naked eyes could only see and to risk his own life uncertain of what lies ahead.  Who would think that he would come back alive?  It was like sending a fledgling soldier to a great war.  The chance of returning is so bleak.

    But Yuri was able to maintain his smile on his face.  If he didn't come back, his smile would no longer register in the hearts of the many.

    Still, I would never ever become an austronaut, hihihi!  I am content to navigate the little space I have on this earth.

    You always give us something to look back in the past, Galma....  It's very much appreciated.

  • Hi, Aariz!

    I'm really glad that the blog seems informative and exciting to you! I thought it would be great to share this information on the day dedicated to this event. Here in Russia we're having two days celebrations ( Saturday and Sunday) marking the day. My students prepared different presentations, connected with Yuri Gagarin and simply with space, galaxies, planets and so on. We all are really interested in space exploration. Thanks for the nice comment!

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