On April 12 in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey into outer space.
Tonight, Yuri’s Night is being celebrated at over 180 parties more than 48 countries.
Understands life better than his friends
In August 1960, when Gagarin was one of 20 possible astronaut candidates, a Soviet Air Force doctor evaluated his personality as follows:
Modest; embarrasses when his humor gets a little too racy; high degree of intellectual development evident in Yuriy; fantastic memory; distinguishes himself from his colleagues by his sharp and far-ranging sense of attention to his surroundings; a well-developed imagination; quick reactions; persevering, prepares himself painstakingly for his activities and training exercises, handles celestial mechanics and mathematical formulae with ease as well as excels in higher mathematics; does not feel constrained when he has to defend his point of view if he considers himself right; appears that he understands life better than a lot of his friends
Yuri lied about the flight date
Before boarding Vostok 1 on 12 April 1961, Gagarin told a little white lie to try to protect his wife.
“She knew what he wanted to do, and when he was leaving for Baikonur he told her what he was doing,” said his daughter Gagarina.
“But he didn’t tell her the actual date. He told her the flight would take place a few days after the real date, so she wouldn’t be worried.”
He himself, however, was under no illusions about his mission.
“He wrote a letter for my mother saying that it was likely he wouldn’t return because the flight was extremely dangerous and that he wanted her not to remain on her own in that case.
But he didn’t give her the letter. She found it by chance among his things when he came back. He hadn’t wanted her to find it and told her that she should throw it away. But of course, she kept it.”
Yuri lived in a dugout for 3 years
The Gagarin family was thrown out of their house by the occupying German army.
They lived in a dug-out in the garden for three years, with almost nothing to eat.
Two of his siblings were deported to work in German labor camps.
Maybe because of this, he became interested in everything: history, literature, art, as well as engineering, sport and science.
As an adult, he worked 20 hours a day.
He was able to take naps of exactly 40 minutes and could wake up “on the dot” without an alarm clock.
Sausages and moonshine
Yuri’s last words before he made history were to do with sausage.
In a conversation just moments before Vostok 1 blasted off, chief rocket designer Sergei Korolyov reminded the cosmonaut about his food.
‘There in the flap you have dinner, supper, and breakfast,’ he said.
‘Got it,’ Gagarin replied.
‘You’ve got sausage, candy and jam to go with the tea,’ Korolyov said. ‘Sixty-three pieces – you’ll get fat! When you get back today, eat everything right away.’
A joking Gagarin replied: ‘The main thing is that there is sausage – to go with the moonshine.’
Man in Space, U.S. Asleep
News of Gagarin’s flight swept round the globe.
“Man in space!” the London Evening News announced that day.
The following morning’s Guardian proclaimed: “Russia hails Columbus of space: World’s first astronaut home safely.”
In the US, which had its own space ambitions, the news was less welcome.
Reporters pressed Nasa for a quote and phoned press officer John “Shorty” Powers at 4.30am.
Powers, outraged at the call, snarled: “What is this! We’re all asleep down here!”
Next morning’s US headlines included the classic: “Soviets put man in space. Spokesman says US asleep.”
I don’t see any God
Gagarin is famous for commenting during the flight, “I don’t see any God up here.”
However, no such words appear in the record of his conversations.
In a 2006 interview, Gagarin’s friend Colonel Valentin Petrov stated that the cosmonaut never said the words.
In fact, the quote originated from a Nikita Khrushchev speech about the state’s anti-religion campaign:
“Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.”
What Yuri hummed
Following the flight, Gagarin told Nikita Khrushchev that he had whistled during reentry.
The tune was “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.
I must find a telephone
A farmer and her daughter saw an orange suited figure with a large white helmet parachute near them.
Gagarin later recalled, ‘When they saw me in my spacesuit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear.
I told them, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”
MetalWorkers invited Yuri to the U.K.
Yuri was invited to the UK by the National Union of Metalworkers in Manchester.
Gagarin had trained as a foundryman before becoming a pilot.
The British government was baffled about how to receive a “communist”.
The British people’s overwhelming welcome forced the government to add an extra two days to his visit.
They hastily arranged a welcome by the prime minister and a lunch with the Queen.
Yuri was banned from space
Soviet people, worried about losing their hero, tried to keep Gagarin away from any flights.
Gagarin was the backup pilot for Vladimir Komarov in the Soyuz 1 flight.
After Komarov’s fatal flight, Gagarin was banned from further spaceflight.
His daughter Elena Gagarina explained:
“He desperately wanted to fly in space again. He’d enjoyed that first flight, but it was over so quickly!
“He wanted to go on being a cosmonaut and a pilot, and he was unhappy that he wasn’t allowed to fly again.”
Every April 12 is Yuri’s Night.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.