The first person in space: Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1

Photograph of Yuri Gagarin.

Image credit: NASA/Public domain.

First published on 14th April 2011. Last updated 11 August 2018 by Dr Helen Klus

It's now been over 50 years since Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to travel to space. On 12th April 1961, Gagarin spent 108 minutes orbiting the Earth in the Vostok 1 spacecraft, before safely landing back on Earth[1].

Gagarin's flight was an early victory for the Soviet Union in the space race but, more importantly, it marked the first step in our exploration of the universe and highlighted the fragility of the Earth.

Although there's no footage of Gagarin's journey, it has since been recreated in real time by the crew of the International Space Station (ISS). This is shown below.

Credit: firstorbit.

After the flight, Gagarin continued to progress within the Soviet Air Force, becoming a Colonel in 1963. Unfortunately, his life was cut short in 1968, when he was killed in a jet crash, aged only 34[2].

Over 500 people have visited space since Gagarin's pioneering mission, twelve of which walked on the Moon[3]. Although it's more cost effective to explore space using robotic probes, we will need to learn how humans can live in such environments if we ever want to colonise the Solar System.

Russia[4], Japan[5], China[6], India[7], Europe, and the USA[8], have all stated that they would like to complete a crewed mission to the Moon within the next century, and the European Space Agency (ESA) aims to complete a crewed mission to Mars by 2030[9].


  1. NASA, 'Yuri Gagarin: First Man in Space', last accessed 01-06-17.

  2. Doran, J. and Bizony, P., 2011, 'Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin', A&C Black.

  3. World Space Flight, 'Astronaut/Cosmonaut Statistics', last accessed 01-06-17.

  4. Zak, A., 2010, 'Russia unveils manned spacecraft', BBC News.

  5. Hopkin, M. and Fuyuno, I., 2006, 'Japan aims to build Moon base by 2030', Nature News, last accessed 01-06-17.

  6. Branigan, T., 2010, 'China could make moon landing in 2025', The Guardian.

  7. The Indian Express, 'India's manned moon mission by 2020: ISRO', last accessed 01-06-17.

  8. University of Leicester, 'Human Space Flight - The Dilemma', last accessed 01-06-17.

  9. ESA, 'Human space exploration in the future', last accessed 01-06-17.

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