The First One Beyond The Earth: It Is Eighty Five Years Since Yuri Gagarin's Birthday

Photo: Alexander Rubashkin, MAMM / MДФ, site:
Photo: Alexander Rubashkin, MAMM / MДФ, site:

The first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin would have turned 85 years old on March 9, but he passed away when he was a young 34-year-old man. His name was known to everyone in every corner of the planet. The boys wanted to become cosmonaut pilots as Juri Gagarin, the others looked at the portrait of him and believed in a speedy exploration of the Universe and the garden city on the Mars. Which conditions had built the character of the cosmonaut? Is it true that another cosmonaut could go to space instead of Gagarin? We learn some unusual facts from the life of the hero of Russia.

Severe Childhood

An interesting legend is connected with the birth of Yuri Gagarin. Although it is customary to celebrate the birthday of the Hero of the USSR on March 9, there is a version that in fact he was born at the end of March 8, on the International Women's Day. Such an event did not please the father of the future pilot: he severely ordered the doctors to write down the boy's birthday with the following date.

And if this fact makes smile, then the very childhood of the boy can hardly be called joyful. He was seven years old, when the Great Patriotic War began. Hitler's forces occupied the Gagarins' home, and the family of six people had to huddle in a little dugout. Then the future space explorer, apparently, began to assume a heroic character. The brother and sister of Yuri were moved to a concentration camp, and younger children, Yuri and Boris, were bullied repeatedly. All members of the Gagarin family survived, but the theme of the war was banned in the family because of bad memories.


"Pravda", 12 April 1961
"Pravda", 12 April 1961

On The Way To The Heroic Deed

Yuri Gagarin studied in the seven-year school in Moscow. He went to the college after moving to Saratov. Juri had no ambitions to become a pilot: he decided to become a metallurgist-foundry after graduating from school. Perhaps, someone else would become the first person in space if Yuri had not gone to the flying club. The sky was waiting for him there, that became almost the main love of Gagarin throughout his life. Yuri finished his study as "excellent" with forty hours of flying and he was absolutely fascinated by flights.

The next stage was the flight school. Again, Juri proved complete dedication and study of "excellent." But everything was in theory - Gagarin had some problems in practice because of which he was even threatened with expulsion. Professionals in the flying club, in the flight school considered him as a ignoramus: Yuri could not land the plane correctly. There the professionalism of the teachers entered into the business: Vasily Makarov, a major general and the head of the school, had to decide the fate of the unprofitable student. Makarov quickly realized that it was not the lack of skills, but Gagarin's physique. Being short (165 cm), he could not "feel" the earth properly. All the problems were gone when special pillows were placed on Yuri Gagarin’s seat on the plane.


From the family album. The first Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin, Alexei Leonov, Boris Volynov and Viktor Gorbatko on a picnic in Dolgoprudny. Site:
From the family album. The first Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin, Alexei Leonov, Boris Volynov and Viktor Gorbatko on a picnic in Dolgoprudny. Site:

Juri Gagarin began training for sending into space almost a year before the legendary April day, 1961. Six people were selectedIn the group of potential discoverers of space. Everyone was the best of its kind, so the right to choose the first man for the space mission was entrusted not only to the special commission, but also to the team itself. In the detachment they decided that Gagarin should fly, since he was always the leader in his group.

One Hundred And Eight Minutes Above The Earth

The conditions of the aircraft required that the astronaut was of small stature, strong physique — Yuri Gagarin fit these parameters perfectly. Then there mental stability was needed: nervous moments could take place during the flight. And the preparation for the flight required a lot of excitement. TASS (ТАСС) prepared three different messages about the results of the launch of the first man in space before the flight - it is not necessary to specify that there was only one message about the flight as successful one. Even Gagarin himself did not know how the most important event in his life would end, so, just in case, he wrote a farewell letter to his wife and daughters.

The space ship comleted the flight in the 108th minute, having made a complete circling around the Earth at 10:55:34. There were crisis moments duting this time. When the capsule with the astronaut entered the atmosphere, Juri was suddenly short of air, the pressure stabilized only a few minutes before landing. Due to a failure in the braking system, the descent vehicle with Gagarin landed not in the planned area (110 km from Stalingrad), but in the Saratov region, not far from Engels, near the settlements of Smelovka and Podgornoye. Gagarin was found by local residents, then he reported about his landing by telephone to the Flight Control Center.


"Izvestia", 13 April 1961
"Izvestia", 13 April 1961

International Hero

Yuri Gagarin started his fly as a senior lieutenant, and landed, by order of General Secretary N.Khrushchev, already as a major.

But the first man in space is not only Russia's heritage. Yuri Gagarin was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union after the flight. Following this, the astronaut received national recognition: he became the Hero of Labor in Czechoslovakia, Vietnam, Bulgaria, and also became an honorary citizen of cities in different countries: France, Greece, Cyprus. Yuri was even awarded gold keys from two Egyptian cities: Cairo and Alexandria.

There was a curious incident happend with Juri Gagarin during a trip to India. The car, in which the Soviet hero was traveling, had to stop and stand in the middle of the road for more than an hour - a cow decided to rest in front of the car. These animals are sacred in India, and even the authorities accompanying the national hero could do nothing. Gagarin then joked that the flight into space was faster for him than a trip along the Indian road.


Meeting of Fidel Castro and Yuri Gagarin. Site:
Meeting of Fidel Castro and Yuri Gagarin. Site:

The visit of Yuri Gagarin to the Queen of Great Britain was memorable. Elizabeth II invited the cosmonaut for lunch, where he faced a major problem. There were several cutlery besides the exquisite dishes at the table - Gagarin, who grew up in the small village, simply did not know how to use them all. But Yuri Alekseevich was not ashamed to report his confusion to the queen herself. She only brushed aside carelessly: even though she was brought up in the palace, remember the purpose of each cutlery was beyond her strength. Therefore, the guest and the hostess ate with traditional spoons.

There were numerous questions to Gagarin what he had seen in space. Nikita Khrushchev, for example, asked if Yuri Alekseevich saw God. The first man in space then laughed off - he said he saw God. Later, as legend has it, Yuri Gagarin heard the same question from the the Patriarch of Rome during the reception: the answer of Juri was already negative. But in both cases, the cosmonaut received the same answer: "Do not tell anyone about this".

Tragedy In The Line Of Duty

Yuri Gagarin did not intend to stop trainings despite long trips abroad. He wanted to fly again into space, he felt the strength to go to the Moon and to the stars. The Soviet authorities took care of the first cosmonaut as a living symbol of their achievements. After numerous requests from Gagarin, the party functionaries agreed, and he returned to flying in 1967.


"Komsomolskaya Pravda", 13 April 1961
"Komsomolskaya Pravda", 13 April 1961

Together with his colleague Vladimir Seryogin, Yuri Gagarin made a training flight that led to the tragedy on March 28, 1968. According to the official version, pilots miscalculated the height necessary for the landing and did not even have time to leave the plane for an emergency landing - the aircraft made a sharp maneuver and went into a tailspin.

The circumstances of the crash are still controversial. Experts argued that the МиГ-15УТИ, on which they flew, can not go into a tailspin. Some assumed the presence of another aircraft, and allegedly the pilots simply tried to avoid a collision. But there is no evidence that besides Gagarin and Seryogin someone else flew out.
Officially, the main causes of the accident were the weather conditions, along with technical problems.
But the question remained open for a long time: why did the pilots die without trying to eject or even give a distress signal? Igor Kuznetsov, an engineer, who investigated the circumstances of the tragedy, expressed his version on this subject. Most likely, Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Seryogin were unconscious: the cabin was depressurized at a height of four kilometers, and the pilots had to go down sharply. While the plane was moving to the ground, both pilots lost consciousness and it was already impossible to control the flight.
A national mourning was declared in the Soviet Union after the death of Gagarin. For the first time such an honor was awarded not to the head of state, but to a simple person. The man who, as Soviet newspapers wrote on April 13, 1961, showed the "Great Victory of Mind and Labor."

Anniversary Report of the First Channel (in Russian)

Arina Krasnova