1st human journey into space, April 12, 1961
The flight, at a mere 108 minutes from launch to landing, gave the Soviet Union a longer lead in the Space Race. The Soviets had already launched the first successful artificial satellite with Sputnik in 1957 and the United States was trailing.
Under heavily veiled secrecy, Vostok 1 was planned and launched by the Soviet space program, designed by Soviet engineers guided by Sergei Korolev under the supervision of Kerim Kerimov and others.
The spaceflight consisted of a single orbit of the Earth and is among the shortest orbital manned spaceflights in history. In fact, the 27-year-old cosmonaut sat in the cabin longer than the length of the flight while final preparations were made, including having to remove the cabin’s door screw by screw to reseal it properly.
Re-entry saw a minor bump when the Vostok service module did not separate from the re-entry module, unexpectedly remaining attached by a bundle of wires. The two halves of the spacecraft began reentry and went through strong gyrations as Vostok 1 neared Egypt. At this point the wires broke, the two modules separated, and the descent module settled into the proper re-entry attitude.
As planned, Gagarin ejected with a parachute 23,000 feet above ground and landed separately from his spacecraft.
Due to the secrecy surrounding the Soviet space program at the time, many details of the spaceflight were not released before the launch. In fact, some local citizens were unaware of the launch. As the story goes, a farmer and his daughter saw Gagarin parachute in from the sky, dressed in a bright orange jump suit and white helmet. Gagarin later recalled that, "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!'"
Gagarin became a worldwide hero, described as having a smile that could "light up the Cold War." Sadly, he died at the age of 34 in 1968 when a MiG 15 training jet he was piloting crashed. Held in high regard by his fellow cosmonauts and US astronauts alike, Gagarin was honored a year after his death on NASA’s Apollo 11 mission when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left a memorial satchel containing medals commemorating Gagarin and fellow cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov on the surface of the moon.
- Sputnik 1 launches, October 4, 1957
- Russia in Space
- 1st human killed in spaceflight, April 24, 1967
- Apollo 11 makes 1st manned landing on the moon, July 20, 1969
- NASA names 1st 7 astronauts, April 9, 1959
For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.
Editor's note: This article was originally posted on April 12, 2013 and edited on April 12, 2017.