60th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's flight into space

12 April 2021

Today Russia celebrates the 60th anniversary of the legendary flight that made Yuri Gagarin the first man in space, a major source of national pride for millions of his countrymen.

On 12 April 1961 Gagarin took off in his Vostok spacecraft from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, then, part of the Soviet Union. It was then that the 27 year old Gagarin exclaimed his iconic catchphrase “Poyekhali!” (Let's go!).

His flight lasted 108 minutes, the time it took to orbit the Earth, before returning to home soil. Gagarin bailed out as planned and parachuted onto a field near the Volga River, southeast of Moscow.

'Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!,' Gagarin said of Earth from space during his solo orbit.

On 7 April 2011, a few days before the 50th anniversary of this feat, at Russia's initiative, the UN General Assembly declared April 12 as the International Day of Human Space Flight.

"We are confident that constructive cooperation in space exploration should remain among the key areas on the unifying international agenda. Over the past decades, Russia, as a leader in space exploration, has provided assistance to a number of states in launching manned flights into orbit. At the UN Committee on Outer Space, we are pursuing a consistent policy line to ensure equal access of states to outer space and to preserve it for future generations," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a video statement.

Commemorative events are being held around the world "to preserve the continuity of times and generations and to raise the awareness of the unfading significance of such historic events, not only for our people, but for the entire world," said Lavrov.

The first human space flight, and the first human made object, Sputnik, being put into orbit were the major sparks that kicked off the space race.

The USSR launched Earth’s first artificial satellite “Sputnik-1” on 4 October 1957 and sent a living creature into space (a dog called Laika) on 3 November 1957. Soviet space apparatus, “Luna-9”, was the first to perform a successful landing on the Moon on 12 September 1959. On 1 November 1962 Soviet space probe, “Mars-1,” was put in Mars’ orbit.

The first woman in space was also a Soviet citizen. Valentina Tereshkova performed a spaceflight on board of “Vostok-6” spaceship on 16 June 1963. The man who performed the first spacewalk in history (18 March 1965) was Yuri Gagarin’s compatriot, Alexey Leonov.

The 1970s were just as fruitful in terms of achievements in space as were the 1960s. On 17 November 1970 the wheels of the Soviet and world’s first lunar rover “Lunokhod-1” touched the surface of the Moon. The world’s first orbital station, Soviet “Salyut-1”, reached the Earth’s orbit on 19 April 1971. On 17 July 1975 two spaceships, USSR’s “Soyuz-19” and US’ “Apollo”, docked in space. This event became known as “handshake in space”.

On 20 February 1986, “Mir” (“Peace” or “World”, it is the same word in Russian), the first modular space station in history, was put in Earth’s orbit. At the time, this was one of the most advanced creations of humankind. Over 20,000 experiments were held on board of this station and 104 cosmonauts from 12 countries visited the station. The station spent 15 years in orbit before it was discontinued in 2001.

As the many benefits of space activity have become evident, other countries have joined the Soviet Union and the United States in developing their own space programs. They include a number of western European countries operating both individually and, after 1975, cooperatively through the European Space Agency, as well as China, Japan, Canada, India, Israel, Iran, North Korea, South Korea, and Brazil. By the second decade of the 21st century, more than 50 countries had space agencies or other government bodies carrying out space activities. Private companies have also entered this arena. SpaceX, founded in 2002 by Elon Musk who was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and headquarted in California, was the first private company to successfully launch and return a spacecraft from Earth's orbit and the first to launch a crewed spacecraft and dock it with the International Space Station (ISS).

Since Gagarin's first flight into orbit, the aerospace industry is constantly being revolutionised, making space exploration more affordable and accessible.