It has been variously billed as The Final Frontier’, The Great Unknown’ and The Heavens’. It has enthralled humans since the caveman days. It is mysterious; it is attractive. On 12th April, 1961, space was conquered by a man named Yuri Gagarin, aka The Columbus of the Cosmos. 50 years ago, today, the first manned space-flight took place.
Yuri Gagarin was born on 9th March, 1934. He became a pilot at Soviet Air Force at the age of 22. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant after two years, and subsequently, to Senior Lieutenant. He was chosen amongst many others to be one of the nineteen pilots for the Soviet Space Program, and thereafter, to be the one of backup crew for the Soyuz-1 Mission, which ultimately ended in disaster. He was to be a replacement for his dear friend, Vladimir Komarov. (It was reported that Komarov knew about the impending failure of the Soyuz-1 mission before the launch and had anticipated his death. Gagarin was also aware of the problems with the craft and pleaded with Komarov to allow him to take his position, who refused to comply.
The Space Race had begun in 1957 with the Russian launching of Sputnik-1. When the 60’s dawned, the race was just heating up. A new mission was to be launched in 1961 and Gagarin was widely regarded as the man best fit for the job. Vostok -1, as the mission was named, was to be a one-man mission.
On April 9th 1961, 3 days before the actual launch date, Gagarin was chosen for the Vostok-1 mission. Minutes before the launch, Gagarin wished for some music to be played over the radio. At 6:07 AM, the craft was launched. At 6:17 AM, the craft entered orbit, marking a historic moment. Man had stepped into the Final Frontier.
About 8:00 AM, the space craft re-entered the atmosphere. Gagarin safely ejected minutes later and landed with the help of a parachute.
Google honored the first man in space with the following doodle.
This was the first big success of the Space Race on either side. Eight years later, three Americans would set foot on the Moon.