Yuri A. Gagarin
(1934-1968) Colonel, former Cosmonaut
Yuri Gagarin came from humble beginnings. Born on a collective farm, March 9, 1934 100 miles west of Moscow, he was the third of four children. His father worked as a carpenter, cabinetmaker, bricklayer and farmer. His mother was a milkmaid.
Gagarin's favorite subject in school was mathematics. He also studied physics and was an avid reader. He completed six grades in secondary school before going to trade school.
The story is told of young Yuri witnessing a Russian Yak fighter plane that made a forced landing in a field near his home. When the pilots disembarked from the plane they wore military medals all over their uniforms. He was highly impressed.
After secondary school Gagarin graduated from trade school in 1951, and became a foundary man. He continued his education at a four-year Industrial college at Saratov and joined a flying club in his last year. So began his dream to become a pilot. He graduated in 1955.
Upon graduation from Industrial college, Gagarin was encouraged, and entered the Soviet Air Force cadet school at Orenburg. He graduated in 1957. On his graduation day from pilot school, in November of 1957, he married his sweetheart, Valentina Ivanova Goryacheva.
In 1959, Gagarin submitted his request to become a cosmonaut and was accepted. He underwent strenuous training in physical, mental and psychological arenas. He excelled in all. He was a likable and confident man who had a calm demeanor according to his instructors.
Two years later, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to ascend into space. He was 27 years old. His space flight on Vostok 1 lasted 108 minutes as he circled the earth one time. His maximum altitude was 187 miles above earth at a speed of 18,000 miles per hour. Upon reentry into the earth's atmosphere, Gagarin ejected and parachuted to safety.
In his short 34 years, he rose from the farm to reach for the stars. Upon return to earth, he was given the title of Hero and received numerous awards. Streets were renamed for him and monuments were raised in honor of his space flight. He and his wife became good will ambassadors and traveled to many countries. But he never made another space flight.
Gagarin died in 1968, along with another pilot on a routine training flight in a MiG-15. After his death, the town of Gzhatsk was renamed, Gagarin.
He left behind a wife and two young daughters. It's reported that Gagarin loved being a father and was devoted to his family. He loved his status of celebrity and all of the extras that came with it, but his love of flying remained. He was training for further space flights at the time of his death.
The Apollo 15 mission left a plaque on the moon in memory of the men, Americans and Russians who died "leading mankind into space."