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Published on Apr 9, 2011
Yuri Gagarin launched on Vostok-1 became the first human to go to Space on April 12th 1961. Gagarin was also the first human to orbit the earth. He was preceded into Space by a Russian dog, Laika.The 1961 flight made Gagarin an international hero; he was awarded the Order of Lenin and made a deputy of the Soviet parliament, the Supreme Soviet. It represented a second propaganda coup for the Soviet Union during the Cold War -- the first was the launch of Sputnik -- and it heated up the space race with the United States. The United States didn't put a man into space until Alan Shepard's sub-orbital flight on 5 May 1961. NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon are regarded as a direct result of the need in the US to even the score.
Yuri Gagarin joined the Russian Air Force in 1955 and graduated with honors from the Soviet Air Force Academy in 1957. Soon afterward, he became a military fighter pilot. By 1959, he had been selected for cosmonaut training as part of the first group of USSR cosmonauts. He flew only the one space mission, circling Earth in Vostok 1 at a speed of 17,025 miles per hour. The flight lasted 108 minutes. At the highest point, he was some 203 miles above Earth. Although the controls were locked, a key was available in case he had to override the remote piloting. The cosmonaut ejected after reentry into Earth's atmosphere and landed by parachute. He was training for a second space mission when, on 27 Mar 1968, he was killed in the crash of a MiG-15 he was piloting.