12 Apr: The First Man in Space

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin left Kazakhstan for space on 12th April, 1961 – the first human to venture beyond the confines of Earth’s atmosphere. As the rocket roared into the sky, Gagarin’s now-famous exclamation of “Poyekhali!” (“Let’s go!”) echoed through the cockpit.

Despite the anticipation surrounding Gagarin’s historic flight, the actual experience was relatively brief, lasting a mere 108 minutes. Within that fleeting window, Gagarin’s calm demeanour belied the inherent dangers of space travel, as he navigated weightlessness and unfamiliar conditions. Upon reentry, he faced a harrowing ordeal as technical malfunctions threatened his safe return to Earth. 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explore how Gagarin’s status as a national hero propelled him into the spotlight, yet suppressed his subsequent career trajectory; explain why it was not his ability as a pilot, but his diminutive height, which was most prized in the Sputnik programme; and reveal how his diplomatic world tour took him to the United States, yet without setting foot on U.S. soil… 

Further Reading:

• ‘Yuri Gagarin: The first human in space’ (New Scientist): https://www.newscientist.com/people/yuri-gagarin/

• ‘”Let’s go!” — Remembering Yuri Gagarin, 60 years on’ (Astronomy Magazine, 2021): https://www.astronomy.com/space-exploration/lets-go-remembering-yuri-gagarins-first-spaceflight-60-years-later/

• ‘Yuri Gagarin Became The First Human In Space, 57 Years Ago Today’ (NBC News, 2018):