On April 12th, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human ever to venture into outer space.
Manned space travel might be relatively commonplace today, but more than 60 years ago, it was unclear whether or not it was even possible for a human to survive in space.
The first living creatures in space, therefore, were two dogs – Belka and Strelka – which were launched aboard the Soviet Sputnik 5 spacecraft on August 19th, 1960 before returning to Earth the next day.
The mission\’s success indicated that it was possible to survive a trip into space – paving the way for Yuri Gagarin – the world\’s first cosmonaut – to attempt what no human had ever attempted before.
One of 20 candidates vying for the opportunity to undertake the mission – Gagarin, who was 27 at the time – was chosen possibly due to his middle-class background (thus demonstrating that even those who had come from modest backgrounds could succeed and achieve great things.)
On 12th April, 1961, Gagarin soared into the heavens aboard the cramped Vostok spacecraft and completed a single orbit of the planet before returning to terra firma.
During his flight, everything was controlled from the ground because it had been unclear whether or not the effects of weightlessness would have compromised his ability to think clearly. There was however a contingency plan to grant him control should communication with the ground be lost.
According to transcripts of the flight, he had been particularly struck by the view out of the window, especially the “beautiful aura” and the shadows cast by the clouds on the Earth\’s surface.
Upon his return, Gagarian became a national hero and worldwide celebrity.
His trip into space also gave him a new perspective on our world.
“Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is,” he said.
“People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!”