Fifty years ago, on April 12, Former Soviet fighter pilot Yuri Gagarin
became the first man to have traveled in space, in a 108-minute flight,
that almost ended in a disaster.
The Soviet human spaceflight project, the Vostok Programme, was an
ambitious effort to confirm Soviet leadership in space.Although several
launches had successfully carried animals into space,it wasn't known how
a man would react to the weightlessness and isolation of a space flight.
Alexey Leonov, Yuri Gagarin's Friend has said, "It's like dressing a man
in a suit and shoving him into a blast furnace, saying, 'fear not, the suit will
protect you.' But nobody knows for sure if it will actually protect you or not."
Some believed weightlessness would turn men mad or squeeze their eyeballs
into jelly. On April 12, 1961, Gagarin proved that pilots could normally operate
spacecraft and communicate with mission control.
Vostok-1 Spacecraft Design Engineer Valeriy Lubinskiy said, "He didn't get to
actually pilot the spacecraft, although he had all necessary controls to conduct
a manual descent and landing, in case the automation would have been unusable".
Gagarin's flight made him famous all around the globe, opening the way for further
manned missions, but it didn't change Gagarin's frank personality.
"I should say I even feel somewhat uncomfortable in front of my friends that my flight
lasted only an hour and forty-eight minutes. But this, of course, was only the beginning,
only the first scouting of space," Gagarin had said.
Gagarin died seven years later in a plane crash. He was only thirty-four years of age.
He left behind a legacy of the pioneering spirit, discovery and friendship that has
shaped human spaceflight ever since.