Date:7 April 2011
On 12 April 1961, nearly 50 years ago, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, making a 108-minute orbital flight in his Vostok 1 spacecraft (Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space less than a month later). Vostok 1 circled Earth at a speed of 27 400 km/h. At the highest point, Gagarin was about 327 km above Earth.
Once in orbit, Gagarin had no control over his spacecraft. Vostok's re-entry was controlled by a computer program sending radio commands to the space capsule. Although the controls were locked, a key had been placed in a sealed envelope in case an emergency situation made it necessary for Gagarin to take control. As was planned, Cosmonaut Gagarin ejected after re-entry into Earth's atmosphere and landed by parachute. Watch the video of the launch and re-entry…
Gagarin, often referred to as "The Columbus of The Cosmos”, died on 27 March 1968 when the MiG-15 he was piloting crashed near Moscow. At the time of his death, he was in training for a second space mission.