On April 12, 1961, an unknown Soviet flight major became the first man into space. The rest is history.
Gagarin in helmet
On April 12, 1961, an almost unknown 27-year-old became the most famous man on the planet. Yuri Gagarin, in an 108-minute orbital flight aboard the Vostok 1, became the first human into space. Today is the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, and though the Soviets were very quickly outclassed in the space race, that accomplishment a half-century ago is one that will live forever in the minds of most space enthusiasts.
Riding a converted ICBM, Gagarin lifted off in the cockpit of the Vostok 1. His flight lasted just 108 minutes, and it was only a month before the Americans' first manned space mission, but on April 12, 1961, no one was riding higher than Gagarin and the entire Soviet space program.
According to NASA, "Dr. George M. Low, acting administrator of NASA, presented to the USSR on January 21, 1971, a plaque in memory of Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who made the first flight into space on April 12, 1961. Accepting the plaque at the Moscow ceremony was Soviet Gen. Kuznetsov, commander of the USSR's Star City space base, where cosmonauts have been training since 1960."