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Yuri Gagarin literally rocketed to fame when he became the first man in space in April 1961.
Strapped into a tiny spherical space capsule, Gagarin made a complete orbit of the earth, before landing safely less than two hours after blastoff.
By demonstrating that humans could survive weightlessness and the crushing acceleration of a rocket ascent, his flight paved the way for all future manned space flights.
Born on a collective farm, Gagarin trained as an industrial worker before taking a course in flying and enrolling as an air force cadet.
He was 27 and at the peak of physical fitness when he went into orbit – his main task was to survive a space flight that was controlled automatically throughout.
Gagarin’s daring exploit earned him instant worldwide fame and a shower of national honours. He never went into space again but undertook several world tours to promote the Soviet space program. Due to his unique experience, he was also assigned to train aspiring cosmonauts.
He died in a jet accident during a training session at the age of 34.