Who Was the First Man to Travel into Space and Circle Around the Earth?
Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968), was the first man in space, he circled the Earth for a little more than one orbit on 12 April 1961 in the Soviet Union’s Vostok 1 capsule spacecraft. Over the course of 108 minutes, Vostok 1 traveled around the Earth once, reaching a maximum height of 203 miles (327 kilometers). The spacecraft carried 10 days’ worth of provisions in case the engines failed and Gagarin was required to wait for the orbit to naturally decay. Gagarin re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, managing to maintain consciousness as he experienced forces up to eight times the pull of gravity during his descent.
Vostok 1 had no engines to slow its re-entry and no way to land safely. About 4 miles (7 km) up, Gagarin ejected from the spacecraft and parachuted to Earth. In order for the mission to be counted as an official spaceflight, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the governing body for aerospace records, had determined that the pilot must land with the spacecraft. Soviet leaders indicated that Gagarin had touched down with the Vostok 1, and they did not reveal that he had ejected until 1971. Regardless, Gagarin still set the record as the first person to leave Earth’s orbit and travel into space.
Before becoming a cosmonaut, Gagarin was a soviet air force test pilot. Gagarin became an international celebrity, and was awarded many medals and honors, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation’s highest honor. Even today, more than six decades after the historic flight, Gagarin is widely celebrated in Russian space museums, with numerous artifacts, busts and statues displayed in his honor. Vostok 1 marked his only spaceflight, but he served as backup crew to the Soyuz 1 mission (which ended in a fatal crash).
Gagarin later became deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre outside Moscow, which was later named after him. Gagarin died in 1968 when a MiG-15 training jet he was piloting crashed. He was survived by his wife, Valentina Ivanovna Goryacheva, and two daughters. His remains are buried at the Kremlin in Moscow, and part of his spacecraft is on display at the RKK Energiya museum.
Gagarin’s flight came at a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for technological supremacy in space. The Soviet Union had already sent the first artificial satellite, called Sputnik, into space in October 1957. Before Gagarin’s mission, the Soviets sent a test flight into space using a prototype of the Vostok spacecraft. During this flight, they sent a life-size dummy called Ivan Ivanovich and a dog named Zvezdochka into space. After the test flight, the Soviet’s considered the vessel fit to take a human into space.