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.