On April 12, 1961, a young Russian cosmonaut named Yury Gagarin boarded a capsule atop a giant rocket at Baikonur, the Soviet space center in south-central Kazakhstan.
The rocket blasted off, carrying Gagarin where no human had ever traveled and returned safely from space. In his tiny capsule, called the Swallow, Gagarin soared 200 miles above Earth.
For a few minutes, he marveled at the beauty of the sphere beneath him. But Swallow soon reentered Earth’s atmosphere. Gagarin landed safely in a potato field outside the Russian city of Saratov.
In a 108-minute flight Gagarin had orbited Earth once and returned. It was a stupendous feat. The 28year-old Gagarin was heralded as Hero, First Class, of the Soviet Union and recognized around the world.
Streets all over the Soviet Union were renamed in his honor. Gagarin planned to return to space but he was killed in a jet crash in 1968.