Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968)

Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin (Russian: Ю́рий Алексе́евич Гага́рин, Jurij Aleksejevič Gagarin Russian pronunciation: [ˈjurʲɪj ɐlʲɪˈksʲeɪvʲɪtɕ gɐˈgarʲɪn]; 9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968), Hero of the Soviet Union, was a Soviet cosmonaut. On 12 April 1961, he became the first human in space and the first to orbit the Earth. He received medals from around the world for his pioneering tour in outer space.

Space flight

On 12 April 1961, Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, launching to orbit aboard the Vostok 3KA-2 (Vostok 1). His call sign in this flight was Kedr (Cedar; Russian: Кедр). During his flight, Gagarin famously whistled the tune “The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows” (Russian: “Родина слышит, Родина знает”). The first two lines of the song are: “The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows/Where her son flies in the sky“. This patriotic song was written by Dmitri Shostakovich in 1951 (opus 86), with words by Yevgeniy Dolmatovsky.

There are speculations in the media that from orbit Gagarin made the comment, “I don’t see any God up here.” However, no such words appear in the verbatim record of Gagarin’s conversations with the Earth during the spaceflight. In a 2006 interview a close friend of Gagarin, Colonel Valentin Petrov, stated that Gagarin never said such words, and that the phrase originated from Nikita Khrushchev‘s speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, where the anti-religious propaganda was discussed. In a certain context Khrushchev said, “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any God there”. Colonel Petrov also said that Gagarin had been baptised into the Orthodox Church as a child.

While in orbit Gagarin was promoted “in the field” from the rank of Senior Lieutenant to Major, and this was the rank at which TASS announced him in its triumphant statement during the flight.

Gagarin being safely returned, Nikita Khrushchev rushed to his side and Gagarin issued a statement praising the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as the “organizer of all our victories”. Khrushchev saw Gagarin’s achievement as a vindication of his policy of strengthening the Soviet Union’s missile forces at the expense of conventional arms. This policy antagonized the Soviet military establishment and contributed to Khrushchev’s eventual downfall.

The Earth is blue. … How wonderful. It is amazing.

—Gagarin, to ground control, BBC News[10]

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