Astronaut of the Month - Yuri Gagarin

Born in a town that would later be renamed in his honor, Yuri Gagarin was born on March 9, 1934, and after surviving the German occupation of much of Russia, grew up to be trained as a steelworker. After joining a local flying club as a cadet, he was later admitted to the Russian Air Force where he became a qualified pilot and served a stint near the border of Norway.


He was chosen as a candidate for space service in 1959, and after more than a year of training, tests, and trials, Gagarin was named as one of the Vanguard Six. Testing continued until he was selected as the lead for the Vostok mission. 


On April 12, 1961, with the bright smile he was known for, Yuri Gagarin said goodbye to Earth and the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Then he rode the Vostok out of the atmosphere and into space where, for 108 minutes, he orbited the Earth. In the process he became not only the first human to get to space, but also the first to orbit our planet. 


He landed safely by parachute and quickly became a national hero and international star, traveling all over the world to meet the crowds who wanted to see the very first spaceman. Back in Russia, he worked on developing better spacecrafts and directed astronaut training, but despite his wishes, was kept from participating in any more missions due to his international value and concerns about future mission safety. 


Finally, he was able to convince his superiors to allow him to renew his regular flight training, though he was banned from flying solo as a safety measure. Nonetheless, on March 27, 1968, he and his co-pilot died in an accidental plane crash.


The anniversary of his historic flight was named Cosmonautics Day in the Soviet Union. Later, Yuri’s Day became an international celebration of all space related milestones.