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.
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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.
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Man Enters Space
This reprint of "The Huntsville Times" heralds Gagarin's accomplishment.
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The Vostok 1 capsule, which is said to have been difficult to get to separate from the final stage of its rocket, nearly causing catastrophe.
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Each year, Gagarin is remembered with a series of special events held at locations the world over known as Yuri's Night.
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Gagarin with the Gemini astronauts
In this photo from 1965, Gagarin is greeted warmly by members of the American Gemini 4 program at the Paris International Air Show.
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Gagarin in color
Here, we see Gagarin in his spacesuit.
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Vostok control panel
This is the control panel of the Vostok 1.
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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."
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Although Gagarin gets all the ink, much of the praise for the Soviet Union getting a man into space first should go to Sergei Korolev, the father of that country's space program.