Yuri Gagarin was a Soviet military pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961.
First man in space and his accomplishments
Gagarin became an international celebrity and was awarded many medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation’s highest honour. Vostok 1 marked his only spaceflight, but he served as backup crew to the Soyuz 1 mission (which ended in a fatal crash). Gagarin later became deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre outside Moscow, which was subsequently named after him. Gagarin died in 1968 when the MiG-15 jet he was piloting crashed.
Since Gagarin’s flight, which took him 108 minutes from launch to landing, Vostok 1 has been surpassed by six other manned space flights. However, it gained cosmonaut Alexei Leonov’s walk-in space in 1965 and the first space docking of Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 in 1968. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded Gagarin its highest honour, the FAI Gold Space Medal (currently awarded for world record-breaking achievements), and renamed its annual Yuri Gagarin gold medal after him after his death.
Training Centre outside Moscow, which was subsequently named after him. Gagarin died in 1968 when the MiG-15 jet he was piloting crashed during a routine training flight near Kirzhach. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded Gagarin its highest honour, the FAI Gold Space Medal (currently awarded for world record-breaking achievements), posthumously in 1968.
The First Man in space and His Family background
Yuri Gagarin was born in the village of Klushino near Gzhatsk (renamed Gagarin in 1968 after his death, see also Yuri A. Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre). His parents’ house still stands there today, although it has been moved from its original location. The villages of both Klushino and nearby Chuguevo are located in Smolensk Oblast, Russia. In 1935, the family moved to Kaluga where he started school at the local “Gymnasia”.
In 1941 Yuri’s father, a carpenter/builder called Arkady Dmitrievich Volkov – a man whose own father had been a landowner – died at work of natural causes. His mother, Anna Timofeevna Gagarina, worked as a seamstress & turner. Anna was the daughter of a prosperous tailor, Timofei Fedorovich Kulyabko, who lived in Chuguevo and had once employed Arkady Volkov as an apprentice.
Yuri’s maternal grandfather’s family originated from the Belarussian village of Starye Dorogi close to Barysaw (Polish: Baranowicze), hence Yuri spoke both Russian and Polish fluently which would later play an important role during his life in becoming the first Soviet Cosmonaut to orbit Earth. The origin of Gagarin’s family is disputed by historians; some say he was of Russian and Ruthenian descent while others claim he was of Polish descent.
During World War II, Yuri was evacuated to Kazakhstan in 1941 where he lived with his mother at the Zhezkazgan Railway Station for two years. After the war ended he continued his studies at the Saratov Technical School (1947–1950). While still a teenager, Gagarin volunteered for weekend training as a Soviet air cadet at a local flying club, where he learned to fly Yakovlev fighter aircraft. He also earned extra money as a part-time dock labourer on the Volga River.