Soviet cosmonaut made pioneering spaceflight 60 years ago

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FILE – In this undated file photo, Soviet cosmonaut Major Yuri Gagarin, first man to orbit the earth, is shown in his space suit. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space 60 years ago. The successful one-orbit flight on April 12, 1961 made the 27-year-old Gagarin a national hero and cemented Soviet supremacy in space until the United States put a man on the moon more than eight years later. (AP Photo/File)

MOSCOW (AP) — Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space 60 years ago.

Gagarin’s steely self-control was a key factor behind the success of his pioneering  108-minute spaceflight.

Two days before blastoff, the 27-year-old Gagarin wrote a farewell letter to his wife, Valentina, sharing his pride in being chosen to ride in Vostok 1 but also trying to console her in the event of his death.

“I fully trust the equipment, it mustn’t let me down. But if something happens, I ask you Valyusha not to become broken by grief,” he wrote, using a nickname for her.

Authorities held onto the letter and eventually gave it to Gagarin’s widow seven years later after he died in an airplane crash.

His April 12, 1961, mission encountered glitches and emergencies, from the capsule’s entry hatch failing to shut properly just before blastoff to a parachute misfire in the final moments before touchdown.

The successful one-orbit flight made the 27-year-old Gagarin a national hero and cemented Soviet supremacy in space until the United States put a man on the moon more than eight years later.

By then, Gagarin had died in a training jet crash.

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