On This Day In History – April 12

“…the flight is continuing well. I can see the Earth. The visibility is good. I almost see everything…” ~ Yuri Gagarin, The First Human In Space.


Katie Whelan, Staff Writer

April 12, 1961

62 years ago, the first ever human spaceflight occurred. Soviet Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.

Gagarin was a senior lieutenant in the Soviet air force when he and 19 other pilots were chosen to participate in the first cosmonaut training program. Due to his skill and small size (5’2″ in height), which allowed him to fit easily in his constricted capsule, he was officially picked for the Vostok 1 voyage.

This period in history was known as The Space Race; so, in an attempt to deceive the West about the precise launch location, the site was given the name “Tyratam,” a nearby rail station at the time.

They lifted off at midday, and all of the controls were handled by ground crew because no one understood what would happen to the human body in zero gravity. Although, Gagarin could take control of his spacecraft in an emergency.

The flight took 108 minutes from exit to entrance of the earth’s atmosphere, and completed one orbit of the Earth in 89 minutes.

Upon re-entry, Gagarin is ejected from Vostok 1 as expected around 4 miles above the Earth and at 1.5 miles, he parachutes to the Earth.

“It was a huge ball, about two or three metres high.” Two schoolgirls describe the landing of the Vostok 1 capsule. “It fell, then it bounced and then it fell again. There was a huge hole where it hit the first time.”

A rural farmer and his daughter also saw Vostok 1 smash into the ground, followed by Gagarin floating down in his orange flight suit. He later recalls this moment, saying, “when they saw me in my spacesuit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!'”