The heroic orbit of the Earth by Vostok-1 is marked with a superb coin portrait of the Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin

After the stunning Dante’s Divine Comedy coin a couple of weeks ago, Mint 21 is already back with another superb offering from a completely different time and place. The first manned orbit of the Earth was a massive event in 1961, and remains one of the most famous and amazing feats of bravery and excellence in human history.

The mint has chosen to portray the two most important elements of the event with a whole coin face each. The reverse has a quite brilliant depiction of the Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on it. Faces, especially from this angle, are notoriously difficult to do with any degree of skill on a coin. Indeed, only CIT’s ‘Revolutionaries’ series has done it with a consistently high standard, but this coin matches those with ease. There is texture and detail in abundance, and the whole thing has outstanding perspective and anatomy.

The obverse shows us the tiny capsule in which Gagarin undertook the orbit.; Looking like something out of a H.G. Wells novel, it’s incredible that someone had the balls to strap themselves into it and sit on top of tons of fuel while someone lit it. That it brought him back safely is proof that solid engineering can work wonders, even without the computers we take for granted these days.

The coin has a mintage of 500 pieces, and weighs in at three ounces. It comes in a latex-skinned ‘floating’ frame with a Certificate of Authenticity. Even accounting for my personal bias for space and astronomy themed coins, we think this is an outstanding piece of high-relief silver coin art. It manages to evoke the era and the event perfectly. Expect to pay around €350 for one and it’s available to order now, with shipping toward the end of the year.

THE FIRST MANNED ORBIT OF THE EARTH

Instantly becoming one of the most famous humans in history, and likely to remain so for centuries to come, Yuri Gagarin strapped himself into a crude metal capsule perched atop tons of explosive fuel, in what will go down as an epic example of human ingenuity and courage. It was from Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 12, 1961 that Vostok 1 lifted off and powered its way into Earth orbit with just a solitary human being on board.

By the standards of today, when pilotless shuttles spend months in space, Gagarin’s single orbit of our Blue Planet seems a small thing, lasting just 108 minutes from take-off to touchdown, but to a species that had never left this ball of rock, it was a first step into the future. Amazingly, Gagarin didn’t land in the capsule, but bailed out around 7 km up, coming down the rest of the way by parachute.

The capsule was actually called Vostok-3a, and sat atop a Vostok-K rocket. It weighed 4,725 kg at launch, and a little over half that on rreturn. As for Gagarin, this was his only mission, being banned from further attempts after the death of another Cosmonaut. The Soviet government did not want to lose its hero. Sadly, five weeks after being given permission to fly regular aircraft, Gagarin was killed when the MiG-15 he was in, crashed.

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SPECIFICATION
DENOMINATION 3,000 Francs CFA (Cameroon)
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 93.3 grams
DIMENSIONS 55.0 mm
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS Colour, high-rellief
MINTAGE 500
BOX / C.O.A. Yes / Yes