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The first human in space was Yuri Gagarin, a soviet cosmonaut who flew the first manned spaceflight mission on the Vostok 1. This huge milestone in aeronautics and space exploration was one of the many fruit that came from the technological competition between the Soviet Union and the United States that was later called the Space Race.
The first manned spaceflight grew out of the natural progression of the Soviet Union’s research into spaceflight. The Soviet Union had a jumpstart since a Russian Scientist Tsiolkovsky envisioned many of the mechanisms that now make up modern spaceflight in the early 1900s. The first successful space program was Sputnik 1. This was the launch of the first artificial satellite and was the first step towards successful manned spaceflight. The Soviet Space program shortly after started experimenting with animals to gauge the effects of spaceflight on living organisms. The most first successful launch of an animal in space, occurred with Sputnik 2. The test subject was a dog name Laika that died from heat and stress shortly after the launch.
The Soviet Space program then undertook an aggressive and extensive search for candidates to become cosmonauts, the first human beings to enter space. A field of 200 candidates, most of them having aviation experience in the military, was chosen. This group underwent a rigorous set of physical and psychological test until a final pool of 20 were chosen. The man finally chosen for the Vostok 1 mission was Yuri Gagarin.
The launch of Vostok 1 occurred on June 12, 1961. The flight put Yuri Gagarin in orbit for about 108 minutes. In that time Vostok 1 managed to orbit the Earth once. There are many interesting facts about the mission. First off the entire flight was automated. None of the Russian scientists and doctors knew how weightlessness would affect a man in space. For this reason the Vostok 1 was designed to be launched and controlled remotely. Another interesting fact is that Yuri Gagarin did not land with the capsule he left in. He actually ejected from the Vostok 1 capsule 23,000 km above the earth and parachuted down. This was because scientists were also unsure that cosmonauts could safely land in the space capsule.
This achievement became the Soviet Union’s greatest propaganda tool as it showed what a communist nation could achieve pooling its resources. Yuri Gagarin and the other cosmonauts who eventually followed him into space became celebrities and their training facility, Star City became a model of the ideal communist community. The other effect is that it spurred the United States to also send a man into space and eventually led to the Apollo 11 mission.
If you enjoyed this article there are others on Universe Today that you will enjoy. There is an interesting article about the Space Race. There is also an article about the 43 anniversary of Gargarin’s flight with interesting links.
There are also resources on the web that you can checkout. There is a NASA website that has an in depth article about Yuri Gargarin. You can also go to russianspaceweb.com. The site also has more information about Gargarin and the history of the Russian space program.
You can also listen to Astronomy Cast. Episode 124 Space Capsules, talks about the Vostok 1 mission.