It is 60 years since Russian pilot and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to leave the embrace of planet Earth and venture into space.
To mark the occasion people, space agencies and governments around the world are celebrating the International Day of Human Space Flight in his honour.
On April 12, 1961 the 27-year-old Gagarin climbed in his Vostok 1 capsule, ready for the 108 minute flight, shouting ‘Poyekhali!’ – ‘Off we go!’ – as the rockets fired.
Gagarin launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome where Roscosmos Soyuz flights to the International Space Station (ISS) are still being launched.
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet paid tribute to Gagarin, saying he is a paragon for all astronauts and cosmonauts that have followed in his footsteps.
Since Gagarin’s flight hundreds of people have flown into space, with most travelling to the International Space Station – only 24 have gone beyond low Earth orbit.
It is 60 years since Russian pilot and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to leave the atmosphere and orbit the planet before returning to Earth
The other anniversary being marked is 40 years since the first NASA Space Shuttle – Columbia – launch on the 20th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight on April 12, 1981
Gagarin became an international celebrity after his trip to space, travelling the world, giving talks, interviews and signing autographs
The first International Day of Human Space Flight was held in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s orbit and the 30th anniversary of the first NASA Space Shuttle flight – STS-1.
Named Colombia, the shuttle carried two crew, mission commander John W Young and pilot Robert L Crippen.
It would go on to become the workforce of the NASA fleet, but was plagued with problems, including two fatal explosions.
The shuttle program was closed down in July 2011, after 135 missions including those to the ISS and to launch and repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
The missions included the catastrophic failures of Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 that killed a total of 14 astronauts.
Gagarin died in 1968, aged 34, a year before Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.
‘Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!,’ Gagarin said of Earth from space during his solo orbit.
Gagarin was flown to Moscow to a hero’s welcome, hailed by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and greeted by enthusiastic crowds cheering his flight as a triumph on par with the victory in World War II.
In the years before he died at age 34, he basked in international glory, visiting dozens of countries to celebrate his historic mission.
‘The colossal propaganda effect of the Sputnik launch and particularly Gagarin’s flight was very important,’ Moscow-based aviation and space expert Vadim Lukashevich said.
The successful one-orbit flight on April 12, 1961 made the 27-year-old Gagarin a national hero and cemented Soviet supremacy in space until the United States put a man on the moon more than eight years later
‘We suddenly beat America even though our country hadn’t recovered yet from the massive damage and casualties’ from World War II.
Gagarin only went to space once, although did serve as a backup crew for the first Soyuz mission in 1967 that saw cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov killed when it crashed into he ground after a parachute failure during its return to Earth.
Fearing for the life of a man that had become a national icon, Soviet officials banned Gagarin from further spaceflight after the Soyuz failure.
He died when a training jet he was piloting crashed near the town of Kirzhach five weeks after he completed training at the Zhukovsky Air Force engineering Academy.
In the Soviet Union April 12 was marked as Cosmonautics Day, first observed in 1963 and still observed in modern Russia and some former Soviet states.
People have taken to social media to pay tribute to Gagarin, describing him as an example for all space travellers to follow.
Space agencies and governments have tweeted to show support for the International Day of Human Spaceflight, marking 60 years since Gagarin’s first flight
Pesquet said: ‘I’ve been thinking about him for hours before the launch of our ‘Soyuz’ spaceship back in 2016. It was a great honour for me to walk Yuri Gagarin’s path at Baikonur Cosmodrome.’
The European Space Agency, the UN, the Australian Space Agency and others shared details of Gagarin’s flight to mark the 60th anniversary.
The first human space flight, and the first human made object – Sputnik – being put into orbit were the major sparks that kicked off the space race.
Gagarin travelled around the Earth in a 108 minute flight that saw him orbit the planet once. He shouted ‘Pokeyhali’ or ‘Let’s Go’ as the rockets roared beneath him
The space race was a 20th-century competition between two super powers – the capitalist US and the communist Soviet Union.
Each super power waged a bitter campaign to prove the superiority of their space technology in a race that became symbolic of the Cold War era.
The race began in 1957 when a Russian ballistic missile launched the world’s first ever man-made satellite to enter Earth’s orbit, known as ‘Sputnik’.
Sputnik’s launch took US military officials by surprise and in 1958 NASA was created to take on the Russians’ space superiority.
But in 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit Earth, traveling in the capsule-like spacecraft Vostok 1 – the US were still second in the space race.
Later that year, then-President John F. Kennedy made the bold claim that the US would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and NASA’s budget was hiked by more than 500 per cent over the next four years.
NASA met Kennedy’s lofty target in July 1969 when US astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins set off on the Apollo 11 space mission.
Gagarin only went to space once, although did serve as a backup crew for the first Soyuz mission in 1967 that saw cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov killed when it crashed into he ground after a parachute failure during its return to Earth
Fearing for the life of a man that had become a national icon, Soviet officials banned Gagarin from further spaceflight after the Soyuz failure
Since Gagarin’s flight hundreds of people have flown into space, with most travelling to the International Space Station – only 24 have gone beyond low Earth orbit
In the Soviet Union April 12, the day of Gagarin’s (pictured) flight was marked as Cosmonautics Day, first observed in 1963 and still observed in modern Russia and some former Soviet states
Armstrong would go on to become the first man on the moon – effectively ending the Cold War.
To mark the 60th anniversary of Gagarin’s first flight, Russia’s state controlled international television network, RT, has digitally restore the speech he gave a year after his trip to space.
They used neural networks and machine learning to restore, add colour and refresh the imagery and audio from archive frames recorded on 35mm film.
‘Dear friends! Today is the day of the first anniversary of the first manned flight into space in the history of mankind, ‘says Gagarin in his speech.
He noted that the flight of the Soviet spaceship ‘Vostok-1’ opened not only a new faith in space exploration, but also ‘was a messenger of peace and goodwill’ to all the people on Earth.
Since the days of the space race, travel has been restricted primarily to low Earth orbit, including trips to various space stations, including the ISS.
To date 553 people have travelled to space from 37 countries with just 24 going beyond low Earth orbit.
People from the US make up 61% of all space travellers or 339 people, followed by Russia at 21% or 121 people.
The next highest number of travellers from a single country is Japan at 12 people, or 2% of all people that have journeyed into space.
Yuri Night, also known as the ‘World Space Party’ is an international even observed since 2011 and this year will stream live on YouTube for free.
Next year it will be 50 years since the last humans went further than low Earth orbit, when the NASA Apollo 17 crew landed on the moon.
The next time astronauts will leave low Earth orbit is expected to happen in 2023 when a crew on Artemis II will orbit the moon.
The year after Artemis III will take the first woman and the next man to land on the surface of the moon for the first time since 1972.
Going forward the first humans to land on another planet is expected to happen in 2035, when an extended Artemis mission will land on Mars.
In a video produced by RT, Gagarin’s first anniversary speech has been restored and colourised
It could happen before then if Elon Musk gets the SpaceX Starship spacecraft ready for a proposed crewed Mars trip in 2026.
The most recent flight to space saw NASA’s Mark Vande Hei, Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskly and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos travel in a Soyuz capsule to the ISS, 254 miles above the Earth.
Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic said he has dreamed of experiencing the view of Earth from space – as first seen by Yuri Gagarin – since he was a child watching the moon landings.
‘Today, we celebrate International Day of Human Spaceflight with the commercial space industry on the cusp of turning my dream, and thousands of others, into a reality by regularly flying private astronauts into space.
‘This is the dawn of a new space age and I feel even more passionate about the future of space travel now than I did when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon.’
Chris Hadfield, former Canadian astronaut and Virgin Galactic advisor said spaceflight is hard and magnificent, an achievement ‘worthy of recognition.’
‘April 12 is the 60th anniversary of an immensely brave man who forged our way into the unknown, Yuri Gagarin, and I respect and honor him for it.
‘Every astronaut since then, from Al Shepard to the international Soyuz crew that launched to the space station last week, has followed in Yuri’s footsteps.’
With the rise in commercial space travel, from firms like Virgin Galactic, the number of people recognised as astronauts will increase exponentially.
‘I’m glad that all those who complete a spaceflight with Virgin Galactic will also be recognized by the Association of Space Explorers,’ said Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses.
‘It’s an honor to be recognized by an organization which counts so many pioneers of space exploration among its members. ‘I’m looking forward to working with them to continue to inspire and educate people around the advantages of seeing the world’s problems from the perspective of space.’