Article 164

“Remembering Yuri Gagarin – Part 1: From humble beginnings to the first man in space!”

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When I was reading about the life of the first man in space, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, what struck me immediately was that this young man – he was only 27 years old at the time of his space flight on 12 April 1961 – came from such humble beginnings.

His family lived in a small village west of Moscow, in what was then the Soviet Union. His schooling was interrupted for several years during World War II when occupying Nazi soldiers, on their way to Moscow, evicted his family from their home.

He worked hard to overcome these challenges, throwing himself wholeheartedly into learning how to fly, and becoming an experienced fighter pilot. According to reports from family, friends, colleagues and fellow astronauts, he was a down-to-earth young man who remained calm and kept his sense of humour even under intense pressure.

After his return from space, he rubbed shoulders with government leaders, political officials and influential people around the world, but his fame as Cosmonaut No. 1 of the Soviet Union did not go to his head.

With his friendly smile, intelligent eyes, and boyish good looks, and his easy ability to connect with people, he captured hearts and minds everywhere. For the political leadership at the time, he was the embodiment of the ideal Soviet citizen – and the perfect poster boy for the Soviet space program.

Published in the Military Despatches of April 2021.

Yuri Gagarin in the Vostok capsule, just before takeoff on 12 April 1961