50 years of human space travel

50 years of human space travel

Celebrating the first man in space

In 2011 we celebrated a milestone...

On April 12th 2011 it was exactly 50 years since Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin did something that no one else had done before. He was the first human to go into space on the same day in 1961.

Gagarin blasted into space, taking off from what is now Kazakhstan, shouting "Let's go!" On Gagarin's historic 108-minute flight he became both the first human to travel into space and the first to orbit the Earth.

Vostok 1 being prepared

Vostok 1 being prepared for Gagarin's space flight

His mission nearly ended in disaster during re-entry, when two pieces of the rocket did not separate properly. This swung the rocket around so that it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere backwards. Gagarin said "Through the porthole I could see reflections of the raging flames which encompassed the ship...I was in a fireball headed for Earth". Eventually - and luckily - the heat generated from re-entry burned through the cables holding the two pieces of rocket together, allowing them to separate cleanly. Gagarin ejected from the rocket 7km above the Earth and parachuted safely to land.

When Gagarin prepared for the first space flight, no one knew what the effects of space travel and weightlessness would be. Some people thought that going to space would make Gagarin go crazy!

Yuri Gagarin newspaper

Gagarin's achievement made headline news across the world

This groundbreaking trip deservedly made Gagarin a hero. It also sparked an intense space race between the USA and what was then the Soviet Union. Within four months, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. There have been hundreds since then, but there can only ever be one adventurous pioneer: Gagarin.

To find out more about Gagarin, watch First Orbit - a real time recreation of Yuri Gagarin's space flight, shot entirely in space from on board the International Space Station. The film combines new footage with Gagarin's actual mission audio. It's free to watch on YouTube: First Orbit.

Test yourself! Try our Yuri Gagarin quiz:

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