A few names stand out when we think about or read about man's space programs. Yuri Gagarin is one of those names that is or should be very near the top of the list for everyone. Even at the height of the space race, NASA even grudgingly admitted to his achievements.
Born on the 9th of March 1934, a day currently celebrated in Russia, Yuri was raised in a small town. He was one of four children, and his parents were "common folk"; his father, Alexei Ivanovich Gagarin, working as a carpenter.
Yuri did well in school and was generally liked by his teachers, who found him to be intelligent and quick of mind. For a short time, Yuri worked in a foundry, before being selected for further training. He learned to fly light aircraft at this time of his life, and later joined the Soviet Air Force, where he learned to fly a MiG-15. While in the Air Force, Yuri met and married Valentina Goryacheva. He achieved the rank of Senior Lieutinant.
In 1960, Yuri was chosen for the Soviet Space Program, as a cosmonaut. He had to undergo rigorous training and experiments, which he handled with surprising ease, possibly due to his small stature (he stood 5'2").
On 12 April 1961, with the world watching, Yuri became the first human in space, aboard the Vostok-1. In the process, he was also given a promotion (while in space) to Major. His charm and wit served to make him an celebrity around the world, and he was much in demand for speaking engagements, worldwide.
In 1962, Yuri became a deputy in the government, and later was a training director for the cosmonaut facility.
On March 27, 1968, he and his instructor died in a training flight, in a MiG-15. The actual cause of the crash has never been determined, though it is widely believed that it involved another aircraft.
Through hard work and dedication, Yuri Gagarin helped to increase the interest of space exploration all around the world. His name is prominent in the annuls of space science, as it should be.