Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (March 9, 1934-March 27, 1968) was born in Klushino Russia to poor parents. Yuri had three siblings and was raised by his oldest sister while his parents worked to support his family. His other two siblings were sent to Germany during World War II and died in the German work camps. He dreamed of space and becoming a pilot. An early teacher fostered that dream and Yuri joined the Russian space program after a short career as a military pilot. The Russians had already sent a dog into space (her name was Laika and she sadly died just a few hours into her flight). But still, they thought that a human in space could work too. Yuri must have been one brave guy since it didn’t work out so well for poor Laika. On April 12, 1961 he became the first human to travel to outer space in the Vostok 1.
During his flight, Gagarin famously whistled the patriotic song "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". He was also recorded as saying “The earth is blue. How wonderful! It is amazing.” Anti-religious propaganda spread rumors that Yuri muttered “I don’t see any God up here” It was later revealed that Yuri was baptized and raised in the Orthodox Church and had a strong faith in God and that he was misquoted by a employee of the space program.
His whole trip into space only lasted just short of two hours. After his return safely home, Russia would not allow Yuri to make anymore flights into space in fear of loosing a National hero after Vladimir Komarov (See “V” is for Vladimir) died in space. Yuri began his training to re-qualify as a fighter pilot, he also became the training director of “Star City” the cosmonaut training base still in operation today. In 1968, during a routine training flight, Yuri died when the plane crashed near Kirzhach, Russia. He was only thirty four years old. Yuri and his co-pilot were buried in the Kremlin on Red Square, Moscow. Rumors and speculation surrounded the crash and the air base’s involvement in the crash, but to this day the cause of the crash is shrouded in mystery.
Originally picked because of his “small stature” and ability to fit into the cramped quarters of a rocket ship, Yuri was a brave hero that paved the way for space exploration. Just a little side note: The first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, was also Russian and made a three day space flight in June of 1963.