When: 58 years ago, on April 12th, 1961
On this day, 58 years ago, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel in space when he launched into orbit on Vostok 1 spacecraft. The Soviet Union beat the U.S in the space race by sending the first man to space. NASA’s Mercury project aimed to send the first manned mission but it was crippled due to severe technical bottlenecks.
The odds were 50-50 that Gagarin would make it back to Earth– with him more likely to not return back to Earth. And the mission was so secretive that Gagarin was not even allowed to tell his family about the space trip. He had to lie that he was off for a business trip ‘very far’.
The mission encountered many problems. At one point, the control room lost data transmission and there were severe problems involving the antennae that put the spacecraft in a higher orbit than it was supposed to.
The total mission lasted 108 minutes in total and made him a national hero. On 14 April, Gagarin was flown to Moscow, where he was greeted by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and driven down a highway lined up with cheering Russians.
Gagarin’s story is an extraordinary tale of bravery studded with rising to fame and as well as falling from grace. But most of all, his story encapsulates the resilience of the human endeavor and thirst for knowledge.