A Day in Astronomy: The First Human in Outer Space

Image (Credit): Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin before his first flight on April 12, 1961. (London Science Museum)

On this day in 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into outer space. He was launched into orbit aboard the Soviet Vostok 1 spacecraft. He orbited the Earth for 108 minutes before landing in Kazakstan. He did not come down in the capsule, but instead landed separately using a parachute.

Yuri Gagarin was later quoted as saying:

When I orbited the Earth in a spaceship, I saw for the first time how beautiful our planet is. Mankind, let us preserve and increase this beauty, and not destroy it!

It was his only flight into space. He died in 1968 in a training flight accident.

The following month, on May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space. He was aboard a Mercury capsule named Freedom 7. 

Image (Credit): Reentry capsule of the Vostok 1 with charring and its parachute on the ground after landing in Kazakhstan. (European Space Agency)