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Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin ( , Jurij Aleksejevič Gagarin ; 9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968), Hero of the Soviet Union, was a Sovietmarker cosmonaut. On 12 April 1961, he became the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the Earth. He received medals from around the world for his pioneering tour in space.

Early life

Yuri Gagarin was born in the village of Klushinomarker near Gzhatsk (now in Smolensk Oblastmarker, Russiamarker), on 9 March 1934. The adjacent town of Gzhatsk was renamed Gagarin in 1968 in his honour. His parents, Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin and Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina, worked on a collective farm. While manual labourers are described in official reports as "peasants", this may be an oversimplification if applied to his parents — his mother was reportedly a voracious reader, and his father a skilled carpenter. Yuri was the third of four children, and his elder sister helped raise him while his parents worked. Like millions of people in the Soviet Unionmarker, the Gagarin family suffered during Nazi occupation in World War II. His two elder siblings were deported to Nazi Germany for slave labour in 1943, and did not return until after the war. While a youth, Yuri became interested in space and planets, and began to dream about his space tour which would one day become a reality. Yuri was described by his teachers in the Moscow satellite town of Lyubertsymarker as intelligent and hard-working, if occasionally mischievous. His mathematics and science teacher had flown in the Soviet Air Forces during the war, which presumably made some substantial impression on young Gagarin.

After starting an apprenticeship in a metalworks as a foundryman, Gagarin was selected for further training at a technical high school in Saratovmarker. While there, he joined the "AeroClub", and learned to fly a light aircraft, a hobby that would take up an increasing proportion of his time. By dint of effort, rather than brilliance, he reportedly mastered both; in 1955, after completing his technical schooling, he entered military flight training at the Orenburgmarker Pilot's School. While there he met Valentina Goryacheva, whom he married in 1957, after gaining his pilot's wings in a MiG-15. Post-graduation, he was assigned to Luostarimarker airbase in Murmansk Oblastmarker, close to the Norwegian bordermarker, where terrible weather made flying risky. As a full-grown man, Gagarin was tall, which was an advantage in the small Vostok cockpit. He became Lieutenant of the Soviet Air Force on 5 November 1957 and on 6 November 1959 he received the rank of Senior Lieutenant.

Career in the Soviet space program

Selection and training

In 1960, after the search and selection process, Yuri Gagarin was selected with 19 other cosmonauts for the Soviet space program. Along with the other prospective cosmonauts, he was subjected to experiments designed to test his physical and psychological endurance; he also underwent training for the upcoming flight. Out of the twenty selected, the eventual choices for the first launch were Gagarin and Gherman Titov because of their performance in training, as well as their physical characteristics — space was at a premium in the small Vostok cockpit and both men were rather short.



Space flight

On 12 April 1961, Gagarin became the first man to travel into space, launching to orbit aboard the Vostok 3KA-3 (Vostok 1). His call sign in this flight was Kedr (Cedar; ). During his flight, Gagarin famously whistled the tune "The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows" ( ). The first two lines of the song are: "The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows/Where her son flies in the sky". This patriotic song was written by Dmitri Shostakovich in 1951 (opus 86), with words by Yevgeniy Dolmatovsky.

Around the same time, some Western sources claimed that Gagarin, during his space flight, had made the comment, "I don't see any God up here." However, no such words appear in the verbatim record of Gagarin's conversations with the Earth during the spaceflight. In a 2006 interview a close friend of Gagarin, Colonel Valentin Petrov, stated that Gagarin never said such words, and that the phrase originated from Nikita Khrushchev's speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, where the anti-religious propaganda was discussed. In a certain context Khrushchev said, "Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any God there". Colonel Petrov also said that Gagarin had been baptised into the Orthodox Church as a child.

Fame and later life

After the flight, Gagarin became a worldwide celebrity, touring widely with appearances in Italy, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, and Japan to promote the Soviet achievement.

In 1962, he began serving as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. He later returned to Star Citymarker, the cosmonaut facility, where he worked on designs for a reusable spacecraft. Gagarin worked on these designs in Star City for 7 years. He became Lieutenant Colonel (or Podpolkovnik) of the Soviet Air Force on 12 June 1962 and on 6 November 1963 he received the rank of Colonel (Polkovnik) of the Soviet Air Force. Soviet officials tried to keep him away from any flights, being worried of losing their hero in an accident. Gagarin was backup pilot for Vladimir Komarov in the Soyuz 1 flight. As Komarov's flight ended in a fatal crash, Gagarin was ultimately banned from training for and participating in further spaceflights.

Memorial at the location of the crash that killed Gagarin and Seregin


Death and legacy

Gagarin then became deputy training director of the Star Citymarker cosmonaut training base. At the same time, he began to re-qualify as a fighter pilot. On 27 March 1968, while on a routine training flight from Chkalovsky Air Basemarker, he and flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin (Seregin) died in a MiG-15UTI crash near the town of Kirzhachmarker. Gagarin and Seryogin were buried in the walls of the Kremlinmarker on Red Squaremarker.

It is not certain what caused the crash, but a 1986 inquest suggests that the turbulence from a Su-11 'Fishpot-C' interceptor using its afterburners may have caused Gagarin's plane to go out of control.

Russian documents declassified in March 2003 showed that the KGBmarker had conducted their own investigation of the accident, in addition to one government and two military investigations. The KGB's report dismissed various conspiracy theories, instead indicating that the actions of air base personnel contributed to the crash. The report states that an air traffic controller provided Gagarin with outdated weather information, and that by the time of his flight, conditions had deteriorated significantly. Ground crew also left external fuel tanks attached to the aircraft. Gagarin's planned flight activities needed clear weather and no outboard tanks. The investigation concluded that Gagarin's aircraft entered a spin, either due to a bird strike or because of a sudden move to avoid another aircraft. Because of the out-of-date weather report, the crew believed their altitude to be higher than it actually was, and could not properly react to bring the MiG-15 out of its spin.

In his 2004 book Two Sides of the Moon, Alexey Leonov recounts that he was flying a helicopter in the same area that day when he heard "two loud booms in the distance." Corroborating other theories, his conclusion is that a Sukhoi jet (which he identifies as a Su-15 'Flagon') was flying below its minimum allowed altitude, and "without realizing it because of the terrible weather conditions, he passed within 10 or 20 meters of Yuri and Seregin's plane while breaking the sound barrier." The resulting turbulence would have sent the MiG into an uncontrolled spin. Leonov believes the first boom he heard was that of the jet breaking the sound barrier, and the second was Gagarin's plane crashing.

A new theory, advanced by the original crash investigator in 2005, hypothesizes that a cabin air vent was accidentally left open by the crew or the previous pilot, leading to oxygen deprivation and leaving the crew incapable of controlling the aircraft.

On 12 April 2007, the Kremlin vetoed a new investigation into the death of Gagarin. Some experts who had been involved in the original investigation had formulated a new theory, based on modern technology and investigative methods. Government officials said that they saw no reason to begin a new investigation. All found parts of the wrecked MiG-15UTI were collected and are stored in sealed barrels.

There were two commemorative coins issued in the Soviet Union to commemorate 20th and 30th anniversaries of his flight: 1 rouble coin (1981, copper-nickel) and 3 rouble coin (1991, silver). In 2001, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, a series of four coins bearing his likeness was issued in Russiamarker: 2 rouble coin (copper-nickel), 3 rouble coin (silver), 10 rouble coin (brass-copper, nickel), and 100 rouble coin (silver).



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