What keeps astronauts company

I see the earth! She is so beautiful! - The first person in space 50 years ago: Yuri Gagarin


"The first spaceship in the world," Vostok ", was launched today from the Soviet Union with a person on board into orbit over the earth. The cosmonaut pilot of the spaceship" Vostok "is a citizen of the USSR, pilot major Yuri Gagarin."
Press release from April 12, 1961

This news electrified the world in 1961. The Americans were completely surprised by the coup. Nevertheless, the congratulations they sent to Moscow were sincere. Gagarin's epoch-making flight, during which he was the first person to orbit the earth, lasted exactly 108 minutes. He quickly became an idol around the world - at the age of just 27. A new type of hero was born: the cosmonaut.

Gagarin's sensational flight put NASA in distress. She now had to send an astronaut into space as quickly as possible. Finally, in May 1961, Alan Shepard became the first US astronaut. However, it only flew in a suborbital ballistic orbit. It was not until February 1962 that John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth on board the Mercury capsule Friendship 7.

Two days after landing at Vostok 1, Gagarin arrived in Moscow. Together with the Soviet head of state Nikita Khrushchev, he appeared on the balcony of the Kremlin to an unmistakable crowd who celebrated him frenetically. 48 hours before, completely unknown, he was now probably the most famous person. The subsequent trip around the globe confirmed this: wherever he went, the crowds cheered him everywhere.

Wherever Gagarin appeared, the ideological differences were forgotten in the moment

Gagarin's international visits were very special as they took place at the height of the Cold War. He was someone who had not only broken the line between earth and space. He also managed to break through the "Iron Curtain" between East and West. Wherever Gagarin appeared, the ideological differences were forgotten in the moment.

Gagarin never flew into space again. After his travels he returned to Star City to continue working on the Russian space program. Until 1967 he was still training for a flight with the new Soyuz spaceship, then he was removed from the training program by those in charge of politics. They wanted to prevent the hero of the Soviet Union from risking his life on another dangerous mission.
It is all the more tragic that Gagarin then lost his life during a routine flight, of all places. On March 27, 1968, he crashed an airplane and was killed with his flight instructor. Gagarin's remains were buried on the Kremlin wall. A moon crater and the asteroid 1772 bear his name in his honor.

"I hope that this famous portrait of Yuri Gagarin will continue to accompany astronauts and cosmonauts on board their spaceships in the future, including the one that will one day carry the first humans to Mars." - Jean-Francois Clervoy (French ESA astronaut)

What is Gagarin's legacy?

Space is an inspiring field of research and manned spaceflight has motivated many young people to take up scientific and engineering professions. Today space exploration influences our daily life and makes an important contribution to the global economy. This is the real legacy of the early space era. But mostly it is also associated with Yuri Gagarin himself and the space travelers who followed him.

Yes, it is true that space touches many aspects of our daily life today. He plays a huge role in monitoring our planet and protecting the environment. Space exploration has also brought us significant advances in materials science, computer technology, engineering, communications technology, biomedicine, and many other areas.

Space touches many aspects of our daily life today

Nowadays satellites reveal every little detail of our home planet and inform us of local and global changes. Space probes have landed on distant planets, moons and asteroids or are still on their way to the edge of our solar system. Astronomical telescopes orbit the earth and give scientists insights into the origins of life and the origin of the universe.

But the space age didn't just begin with Gagarin's flight in 1961. Rather, it was already in full swing. New inventions and technologies in the space sector had made it possible for a large number of satellites to be successfully placed in orbit and probes to be sent into interplanetary space in the Soviet Union and the USA with over 100 launch attempts.

Since the launch of the first artificial earth satellite Sputnik 1 in October 1957, the Soviet Union has been able to record a number of first performances. In November 1957, she brought the first living being into space, the dog Laika, and in January 1959, Luna 1 was the first space probe to fly close to the moon. Luna 2 was the first spacecraft to hit the earth's satellite in September 1959, and in October of the same year Luna 3 photographed its back for the first time. Another important milestone for space development was the launch of the first Venera 1 planetary probe in the direction of Venus in February 1961.

The American side has already achieved impressive missions. With the first artificial satellite, Explorer 1, launched in January 1958, they discovered the Van Allen radiation belt. This successful US debut was soon followed by other satellites. The first communications satellite SCORE, also launched in 1958, and the first scientific solar probe Pioneer 5, which went into space in March 1960, should be mentioned here. It was followed a month later by the first TIROS 1 weather satellite and the first operational navigation satellite Transit.

"Commission préparatoire européenne de recherches spatiales (COPERS)"

In Europe at that time the "Groupe d’études européen pour la collaboration dans le domaine des recherches spatiales" (GEERS) existed. The association, formed by scientists from ten countries, set up the “Commission préparatoire européenne de recherches spatiales (COPERS)” in the course of advances in spatial research in 1961. This commission had the task of advising the European governments in the exploration of possibilities for cooperation in space and of giving thought to the establishment of a European space agency.

What did Gagarin leave us as an inheritance? Until the publication of Gagarin's pictures in the world press, there were no real space heroes with whom broad sections of the population could identify. Scientists and engineers were unsuitable for this. They usually worked behind the scenes and rarely appeared in the media. The youth of that time were thus - at least in the West - shaped by the heroes of numerous comic books and science fiction stories. At most one could aspire to become a jet fighter pilot. That only changed with the selection of the seven US astronauts for the Mercury program in 1959. From then on, they took on the role of identification figures - with the active support of the press, such as Life magazine.

With Gagarin, space exploration got its first human face

The images of this courageous, helmeted space explorer became icons of the 20th century and determined the image of the cosmonaut. Only the photo of Buzz Aldrin on the moon from July 1969 achieved similar cult status. What most people can remember from Gagarin is his smile. The pictures with his smiling face not only gave space travel a human face. At that time they also gave Soviet society more human traits.

The Soviet administration had chosen its first husband carefully. It soon became apparent that the time after his space flight had also been taken into account. Gagarin was quickly converted into an ambassador for the Soviet Union. Indeed, the photographs of the first cosmonaut temporarily pushed all political differences into the background and sparked the imagination of people around the world. Gagarin instilled confidence. He stood for professional competence, team spirit, modesty, bravery, leadership quality and helpfulness and thus resembled his American opponents. That was not surprising, since he was a military pilot like her. These advantages still shape our ideas of a spaceman today and nothing will change anytime soon.

First person who could see the earth from space

Almost more importantly, during the Vostok-1 flight, Gagarin was the first person to see Earth from space. With the myriad images of the earth from space available today, it is difficult to understand what he felt when he was the first to see our planet from this perspective. This aspect of the flight alone was of enormous importance. It no longer allows it to appear only in the light of a mere impressive technical achievement, but rather to become a milestone in human history. Could this be his legacy?

Since then, more than 500 people from over 30 countries have flown into space. As with Gagarin, almost all of them had changed attitudes towards life after their return. They described the earth as they saw it from cosmic heights: as a world without political barriers and without national borders.

For a few months, Gagarin remained the only person on earth who had enjoyed this unique view of our planet. Struck by its beauty and fragility, he realized that it was a human duty to protect it. Although its flight lasted only an hour and 48 minutes and only led once around the entire globe, its effect was all the more lasting. Just as the political, social, cultural and technical landscapes changed, so did our relationship with planet earth forever.

50 years later

"Pojechali!" Gagarin shouted as the launcher lifted off the ramp and carried him into space as the first human. This Russian expression for "let's go" has now become a household word, but 50 years after this flight it has acquired a completely different meaning. Space agencies all over the world are currently working on strategies according to which humans and robots are to be used together for the peaceful conquest and exploration of space. The focus is on goals in our solar system, where people could one day live and work.

Research in space can no longer be carried out by a nation alone; it is a challenge for all of humanity. At last year's International Astronautical Congress in the Czech Republic, the leading space researchers saw it the same way and promoted international cooperation. ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain also spoke about the importance of Gagarin's flight. He assessed it and its effect with the following words: "His deed is part of the history of mankind and cosmonautics. It is good that April 12th is no longer celebrated in Russia, but that it is now celebrated all over the world. This proves that Gagarin is no longer seen just as a Soviet citizen, but as a citizen of planet Earth. Space, and especially manned space travel, became the driving force for a specific vision that our future lies in globality. In the next 50 Years the cooperation will grow and we will explore the moon or Mars together ... "

Fr Nespoli: “The first person to step on Mars has already been born”.

ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who is currently completing his six-month MagISStra mission on the International Space Station, was four years old when Gagarin's flight took place. The Italian is extremely pleased that the ISS partners want to continue operating the station beyond 2015, while at the same time looking for ways to increase and optimize the flight options for European astronauts. That's why Nespoli isn't worried about the future of space exploration. For him it is clear: "The first person who will set foot on Mars has already been born".

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