Born: 9 March 1934
Died: 27 March 1968 (airplane crash)
Birthplace: Klushino, Russia
Best known as: The first human in space
Yuri Gagarin flew into orbit aboard the Soviet spacecraft Vostok I on 12 April 1961, becoming the first man in space. He orbited the Earth once (his capsule was controlled from the ground) before returning for a safe landing in the Soviet Union roughly 90 minutes later. The 1961 flight made him an international hero; he was awarded the Order of Lenin and made a deputy of the Soviet parliament, the Supreme Soviet. The flight was also considered a political victory for the Soviet Union; the United States didn't put a man into space until Alan Shepard's sub-orbital flight on 5 May 1961. Gagarin had graduated from the Soviet air force academy in 1957 and joined the cosmonaut corps in 1960. After his famous flight he remained in the cosmonaut corps and was killed while piloting an airplane on a training flight in 1968.
Extra credit: On his way to the launch pad in 1961, Gagarin stopped to empty his bladder. The act became a tradition with subsequent cosmonauts, who urinate on the back tire of the transport bus before their flights... Gagarin was preceded into space by a Russian dog, Laika.
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