Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

April 12, 1996

Man Enters Space
Credit: Courtesy MSFC Historical Archive

Explanation: Thirty five years ago today, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexseyevich Gagarin became the first human in space. On April 12, 1961, his remotely controlled Vostok 1 spacecraft lofted him to an altitude of 200 miles and carried him once around planet Earth. Strictly a passenger, his onboard controls were locked out by a secret combination - in case of emergency he carried the combination in a sealed envelope. After reentry, Gagarin ejected from the Vostok at an altitude of 20,000 feet and parachuted to Earth. How was the first view from space? He reportedly commented, "The sky is very dark; the Earth is bluish. Everything is seen very clearly". Coupled with other spacefaring accomplishments, this flight seemed to confirm Soviet technological superiority - the first US astronaut would not be launched until almost a month later and then on a comparatively short suborbital flight. Born on March 9, 1934, Gagarin was an air force jet pilot before being chosen for the first group of cosmonauts in 1960. As a result of his historic flight he became an international hero and legend. Killed when his MIG jet crashed during a training flight on March 27, 1968, Gagarin was given a hero's funeral, his ashes interred in the Kremlin Wall.

Tomorrow's picture: The Compton Observatory Turns Five

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.