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Spaced Out!

April 12, 2021 marked 60 years since Soviet Pilot and Cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (March 9, 1934 – March 27, 1968) became the first human to venture into Space, and was celebrated as the International Day of Human Space Flight. The 27-year-old Gagarin, the first human in orbit who started the Space Race, exclaimed as he was getting on the capsule for his 108-minute flight, Poyekhali!, which translate to Let’s go!.

Yuri Gagarin was born to peasant farmers on March 9, 1934 in Klushino, a small village near Moscow; and had worked in a foundry to become a Military Pilot later. He was selected as a cosmonaut from hundreds of candidates.

Yuri Gagarin

On April 12, 1961, the Vostok 1 spacecraft, with Yuri Gagarin onboard, blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 9:07am (Moscow Time). He orbited the Earth for 108 minutes before safely landing on a potato field. He had to eject as his capsule cable did not detach, but the erstwhile Soviet Union kept this fact secret for years! Later, the cosmonaut reportedly told the press: “I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!

Yuri Gagarin’s journey to the space marked a historic achievement for the Soviet Union, which beat the US in a tight race to launch the first human into space. One US newspaper headline, later that day, read: “Soviets put man in space: Spokesman says US asleep.

It was believed that before the take-off, Yuri Gagarin asked the bus driver to bring him to the Launchpad so he could relieve himself, which he did on the right back tyre. For years, the Russian cosmonauts are said to have done this as well, until 2019 when their spacesuits did not come with a fly.

Vostok 1 was Yuri Gagarin’s only spaceflight, as he never went into space again. However, he served as the backup crew to the Soyuz 1 Mission. This mission ended in a fatal crash, claiming the life of his friend and fellow cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. After the accident, the Soviet officials banned Yuri Gagarin from further spaceflights because they were scared to lose their National Icon. After completing training at the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy in February 1968, he was allowed to fly regular aircraft.

The Spaceflight

Yuri Gagarin died at the age of 34 in a MiG-15 jet crash that became the subject of several Conspiracy Theories! According to some conspiracy theories, Yuri Gagarin’s death was ordered by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who supposedly was jealous of the former’s popularity, overshadowing him at public events. However, a KGB report, declassified in March 2003, dismissed those theories, indicating the actions of airbase personnel contributed to the crash. As per the report, An Air-Traffic Controller provided Yuri Gagarin with outdated weather information during the time of his flight. Unfortunately, conditions had deteriorated significantly, with ground crew leaving external fuel tanks attached to the aircraft. Yuri Gagarin’s planned flight activities required clear weather and no outboard tanks. Later, an investigation concluded that Yuri Gagarin’s aircraft entered a spin, either because of a bird strike or due to a sudden move to avoid another aircraft. The out-of-date weather report prompted the crew to believe their altitude was higher than it was and could not react properly to bring the MiG-15 out of its spin.

Funeral of Gagarin and Seryogin at Red Square, Moscow in 1968

According to some sources, Yuri Gagarin commented during his space flight: “I don’t see any God up here!” However, his friend Colonel Valentin Petrov rejected the claim, saying that “no such words appear in the verbatim record of his conversations with Earth stations during the spaceflight”. In a 2006 interview, Colonel Petrov reportedly stated that Gagarin had never said these words and that the quote originated from Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev‘s speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU about the State’s anti-religion campaign. He further claimed that Yuri Gagarin had been baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church as a child.

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