Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (1934–1968) was born on this day in the village of Klushino, Russia, the son of manual laborers.
Quiet, handsome, and soft-spoken, he fell in love with airplanes and became a pilot and parachutist, then was amongst the first to train in his country's secret facilities for space.
On April 12, 1961, Gagarin said, "Poyekhali! (Off we go)" and became the first human to orbit space in a rocket. His flight on the craft Vostok (East), circled the earth once and lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes, reaching a maximum altitude of 188 miles (303 km).
"I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquiose, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black," Gagarin said.
The flight, heralded by the Russians as "the genius of the Soviet people and the powerful force of socialism," represented an enormouse scientific and technological achievement.
"The Columbus of the Cosmos" broke open the universe and our imaginations... The flight made him a National hero and famous throughout the world.
And the space race was on. A month after the Vostok flight, Alan Shepard orbited earth in his Mercury 7 craft, then JFK promised the future landing of an American on the moon.
Tragically, seven years after his orbit of earth, Gagarin and his copilot died in a MiG-15 fighter jet crash while training for the Soyuz 3 mission. "I could have gone on flying through space forever," he once said.
The earth and all its beauty--a daily celebration...