Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, (9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968), Hero of the Soviet Union, was a Soviet cosmonaut. On 12 April 1961, he became the first person in space and the first to orbit the Earth. He received many medals from different countries for his pioneering tour in space.
Yuri Gagarin was born in the village of Klushino near Gzhatsk (now in Smolensk Oblast, Russia), on 9 March 1934. The adjacent town of Gzhatsk was renamed Gagarin in 1968 in his honor. His parents, father Alexei Ivanovich Gagarin and mother Anna Timofeevna Gagarina, worked on a collective farm. While manual laborers are described in official reports as "peasants", this may be an oversimplification if applied to his parents — his mother was reportedly an edacious reader, and his father a skilled carpenter. Yuri was the third of four children, and his elder sister helped raise him while his parents worked. Like millions of people in the Soviet Union, the Gagarin family suffered during Nazi occupation in World War II. His two elder siblings were sent to Germany as slave laborers in 1943, and did not return until after the war. As a young boy, Yuri became interested in space and planets, and began to dream about his space tour which became true one day. Yuri was described by his teachers in the Moscow satellite town of Lyubertsy as intelligent and hard-working, if occasionally mischievous. His mathematics and science teacher had flown in the Soviet Air Forces during the war, which presumably made some substantial impression on young Gagarin.
After starting an apprenticeship in metal works as a foundry man, Gagarin was selected for further training at a technical high school in Saratov. There he joined the "Air Club", and learned to fly a light aircraft, a hobby that would take up an increasing proportion of his time. Through dint of effort, rather than brilliance, he reportedly mastered both; in 1955, after completing his technical schooling, he entered military flight training at the Orenburg Pilot's School. While there he met Valentina Goryacheva, whom he married in 1957, after gaining his pilot's wings in a MiG-15. Post-graduation, he was assigned to Luostari airbase in Murmansk Oblast, close to the Norwegian border, where bad weather made flying risky. As a full-grown man, Gagarin was 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m) tall, which was an advantage in the small Vostok cockpit. He became Lieutenant of the Soviet Air Force on November 5, 1957 and on November 6, 1959 he received the rank of Senior Lieutenant.
In 1960, after an extensive search and selection process Yuri Gagarin was selected with 19 other cosmonauts for the Soviet space program. Along with the other prospective cosmonauts, he was subjected to a rigorous series of experiments designed to test his physical and psychological endurance; he also underwent intensive training for the upcoming flight. Out of the twenty selected, the eventual choices for the first launch were Gagarin and Gherman Titov because of their excellent performance in training, as well as their physical characteristics — space was at a premium in the small Vostok cockpit and both men were rather short. Gagarin's last-minute assignment, approved at the highest levels of the CPSU, to take the historic flight, may have been due to Gagarin's modest upbringing and genial, outgoing personality, as opposed to the middle-class and somewhat aloof demeanor of Titov. Soviet officials weighed other factors as well in selecting Yuri: his appearance, his capacity to handle media attention, his Russian heritage and even the name "Gagarin," which was also a family name associated with Tsarist aristocracy.
On 12 April 1961, Gagarin became the first human to travel into space in Vostok 1. His call sign in this flight was Kedr (Cedar). While in orbit Gagarin was promoted "in the field" from the rank of Senior Lieutenant to Major — and this was the rank at which TASS announced him in its triumphant statement during the flight.
Gagarin being safely returned, Nikita Khrushchev rushed to his side and Gagarin issued a statement praising the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as the "organizer of all our victories". Khrushchev saw Gagarin's achievement as a vindication of his policy of strengthening the Soviet Union's missile forces at the expense of conventional arms. This policy antagonized the Soviet military establishment and contributed to Khrushchev's eventual downfall.
After the flight, Gagarin became an instant, worldwide celebrity, touring widely with appearances in Italy, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, and Japan to promote the Soviet achievement.
In 1962, he began serving as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet. He later returned to "Star City", the cosmonaut facility, where he worked on designs for a reusable spacecraft. Gagarin worked on these designs in Star City for 7 years.
Gagarin became Lieutenant Colonel of the Soviet Air Force on June 12, 1962 and on November 6, 1963 he received the rank of Colonel of the Soviet Air Force.
Gagarin then became deputy training director of Star City. At the same time, he re-applied to be a fighter pilot. On 27 March 1968, he and his instructor died in a MiG-15UTI on a routine training flight near Kirzhach. It is not certain what caused the crash, but a 1986 inquest suggests that the turbulence from a SU-11 'Fishpot-C' interceptor using its afterburners may have caused Gagarin's plane to go out of control. Weather conditions were also poor, which may have contributed to the inability of Gagarin and the instructor to correct before they crashed.
Gagarin is buried next to Seregin (his instructor who he crashed with), in the walls of the Kremlin on Red Square.
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