Colonel Yuri A. Gagarin was born on a collective farm in a region west of Moscow, Russia on March 9, 1934. His father was a carpenter. Yuri attended the local school for six years and continued his education at vocational and technical schools.
Colonel Gagarin joined the Russian Air Force in 1955 and graduated with honors from the Soviet Air Force Academy in 1957. Soon afterward, he became a military fighter pilot. By 1959, he had been selected for cosmonaut training as part of the first group of USSR cosmonauts.
Yuri Gagarin flew only one space mission. On April 12, 1961 he became the first human to orbit Earth. Gagarin's spacecraft, Vostok 1, circled Earth at a speed of 27,400 kilometers per hour. The flight lasted 108 minutes. At the highest point, Gagarin was about 327 kilometers above Earth.
Once in orbit, Gagarin had no control over his spacecraft. Vostok's reentry was controlled by a computer program sending radio commands to the space capsule. Although the controls were locked, a key had been placed in a sealed envelope in case an emergency situation made it necessary for Gagarin to take control. As was planned, Cosmonaut Gagarin ejected after reentry into Earth's atmosphere and landed by parachute.
Colonel Yuri Gagarin died on March 27, 1968 when the MiG-15 he was piloting crashed near Moscow. At the time of his death, Yuri Gagarin was in training for a second space mission.
TEXT CREDIT: StarChild: A Learning Center for Young Astronomers