March 9, 1934: Yuri Gagarin is born in Klushino, Smolensk Oblast.
On April 12, 1961, this Soviet cosmonaut became the first human to travel into space and orbit the earth. After his historic spaceflight aboard Vostok 1, Gagarin became an international celebrity, loved by both the Russian people and by people all over the world. Above, we can see the charming, jolly smile that eased Cold War tensions and won him many fans.
Unlike his NASA counterparts, who mostly grew up in quiet Midwestern towns, Gagarin lived through the Nazi occupation of his country - an occupation that forced two members of his family into slave labor and the rest into a dismal living in a mud hut. His modest background, coupled with his humble appearance (he stood only 5’2” or 1.57 meters tall), made him all the more accessible. Sadly, the world’s first human spaceflight was also Gagarin’s last - he died in 1968 in a jet crash.