On This Day: April 12th


In 1961 on April the 12th Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into outer space, he performed the first manned orbital flight, Vostok 1. This was a part of the Cold War space race between the two superpowers; the Soviet Union and the United States of America. The space race had begun shortly before the USSR launched the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957, Yuri Gagarin being the first human sent into outer space gave the USSR a great achievement within the space race.

The Vostok 1 mission lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes and completed one orbit. The spaceflight at its lowest during orbit was in the upper atmosphere at about 169 km from the earth’s surface. Gagarin ejected at 7 km from the earth’s surface and parachuted safely to ground at the culmination of his flight.

The Soviet’s reacted very well to this success, the 12th of April was declared Cosmonautics Day, it is still celebrated today in Russia and has even been recognised by the UN as the International Day of Human Flight. Gagarin was also awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union. The US reaction was to officially congratulate the Soviet Union on this great accomplishment. There were notions of mixed feelings from the spaceflight with apprehension as to what the USSR could potentially accomplish and what their level of technology was or would become.

The spaceflight of Vostok 1 with Yuri Gagarin was a momentous time in modern world history, historian Asif Azam Siddiqi wrote:

“will undoubtedly remain one of the major milestones in not only the history of space exploration, but also the history of the human race itself. The fact that this accomplishment was successfully carried out by the Soviet Union, a country completely devastated by war just sixteen years prior, makes the achievement even more impressive. Unlike the United States, the USSR had to begin from a position of tremendous disadvantage. Its industrial infrastructure had been ruined, and its technological capabilities were outdated at best. A good portion of its land had been devastated by war, and it had lost about 25 million citizens … but it was the totalitarian state that overwhelmingly took the lead [in the space race].”


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