Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin
(1934—1968) Russian cosmonaut
Soviet cosmonaut who, in 1961, made the first manned space flight. He received the Order of Lenin and was made Hero of the Soviet Union in recognition of this achievement.
Gagarin was born in Gzhatsk, a village in the Smolensk region, the son of a carpenter. His childhood was disrupted by the Nazi invasion during World War II. After the war he trained as a metalworker at the Lybertsky plant, Moscow, before entering trade school at Saratov-on-Volga, where he received a foundryman's certificate. In 1955 he graduated in technical science from Saratov technical college and in the same year took a course at Saratov Aeroclub. This shaped the course of Gagarin's career and, after training at the Soviet Air Force School, he joined the Soviet Air Force in 1957.
Gagarin was one of several selected for the cosmonaut training programme in the late 1950s and on 12 April 1961 he was launched into space aboard Vostok 1 from Tyuratam in Kazakstan. He completed a single orbit of the earth at a maximum altitude of 327 km and a maximum speed of 28 096 km per hour. His craft parachuted safely down 108 minutes later near the village of Smelovka in the Saratov region of the USSR, and Gagarin became an international hero. He made no further space flights but was involved with the cosmonaut training programme. He was killed in a plane crash while on a training flight.