Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin (Ю́рий Алексе́евич Гага́рин, Jurij Aleksejevič Gagarin ; 9 March 1934 - 27 March 1968), Hero of the Soviet Union, was a Soviet cosmonaut. On 12 April 1961, he became the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the Earth. He received medals from around the world for his feat.
After starting an apprenticeship in a metalworks as a foundryman, Gagarin was selected for further training at a technical high school in Saratov. While there, he joined the "AeroClub", and learned to fly a light aircraft, a hobby that would take up an increasing proportion of his time. Through dint of effort, rather than brilliance, he reportedly mastered both; in 1955, after completing his technical schooling, he entered military flight training at the Orenburg Pilot's School. While there he met Valentina Goryacheva, whom he married in 1957, after gaining his pilot's wings in a MiG-15. Post-graduation, he was assigned to Luostari airbase in Murmansk Oblast, close to the Norwegian border, where terrible weather made flying risky. As a full-grown man, Gagarin was tall, which was an advantage in the small Vostok cockpit. He became Lieutenant of the Soviet Air Force on 5 November 1957 and on 6 November 1959 he received the rank of Senior Lieutenant.
There are speculations in the media that from orbit Gagarin made the comment, "I don't see any God up here." However, no such words appear in the verbatim record of Gagarin's conversations with the Earth during the spaceflight. In a 2006 interview a close friend of Gagarin, Colonel Valentin Petrov, stated that Gagarin never said such words, and that the phrase originated from Nikita Khrushchev's speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, where the anti-religious propaganda was discussed. In a certain context Khrushchev said, "Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any God there". Colonel Petrov also said that Gagarin had been baptised into the Orthodox Church as a child.
Gagarin being safely returned, Nikita Khrushchev rushed to his side and Gagarin issued a statement praising the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as the "organizer of all our victories". Khrushchev saw Gagarin's achievement as a vindication of his policy of strengthening the Soviet Union's missile forces at the expense of conventional arms. This policy antagonized the Soviet military establishment and contributed to Khrushchev's eventual downfall.
The Earth is blue. How wonderful. It is amazing.|20px|20px|Gagarin, to ground control|BBC News
In 1962, he began serving as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet. He later returned to Star City, the cosmonaut facility, where he worked on designs for a reusable spacecraft. Gagarin worked on these designs in Star City for 7 years. Gagarin became Lieutenant Colonel (or Podpolkovnik) of the Soviet Air Force on 12 June 1962 and on 6 November 1963 he received the rank of Colonel (Polkovnik) of the Soviet Air Force. Soviet officials tried to keep him away from any flights, being worried of losing their hero in an accident. Gagarin was backup pilot for Vladimir Komarov in the Soyuz 1 flight. As Komarov's flight ended in a fatal crash, Gagarin was ultimately banned from the space program.
It is not certain what caused the crash, but a 1986 inquest suggests that the turbulence from a Su-11 'Fishpot-C' interceptor using its afterburners may have caused Gagarin's plane to go out of control.
Russian documents declassified in March 2003 showed that the KGB had conducted their own investigation of the accident, in addition to one government and two military investigations. The KGB's report dismissed various conspiracy theories, instead indicating that the actions of air base personnel contributed to the crash. The report states that an air traffic controller provided Gagarin with outdated weather information, and that when Gagarin flew, conditions had deteriorated significantly. Ground crew also left external fuel tanks attached to the aircraft. Gagarin's planned flight activities needed clear weather and no outboard tanks. The investigation concluded that Gagarin's aircraft entered a spin, either due to a bird strike or because of a sudden move to avoid another aircraft. Because of the out-of-date weather report, the crew believed their altitude to be higher than it actually was, and could not properly react to bring the MiG-15 out of its spin.
In his 2004 book Two Sides of the Moon, Alexey Leonov recounts that he was flying a helicopter in the same area that day when he heard "two loud booms in the distance." Corroborating other theories, his conclusion is that a Sukhoi jet (which he identifies as a Su-15 'Flagon') was flying below its minimum allowed altitude, and "without realizing it because of the terrible weather conditions, he passed within 10 or 20 meters of Yuri and Seregin's plane while breaking the sound barrier." The resulting turbulence would have sent the MiG into an uncontrolled spin. Leonov believes the first boom he heard was that of the jet breaking the sound barrier, and the second was Gagarin's plane crashing.
A new theory, advanced by the original crash investigator in 2005, hypothesizes that a cabin air vent was accidentally left open by the crew or the previous pilot, leading to oxygen deprivation and leaving the crew incapable of controlling the aircraft.
On 12 April 2007, the Kremlin vetoed a new investigation into the death of Gagarin. Some experts who had been involved in the original investigation had formulated a new theory, based on modern technology and investigative methods. Government officials said that they saw no reason to begin a new investigation. All found parts of the wrecked MiG-15UTI were collected and are stored in sealed barrels.
There were two commemorative coins issued in the Soviet Union to commemorate 20th and 30th anniversaries of his flight: 1 rouble coin (1981, copper-nickel) and 3 rouble coin (1991, silver). In 2001, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, a series of four coins bearing his likeness was issued in Russia: 2 rouble coin (copper-nickel), 3 rouble coin (silver), 10 rouble coin (brass-copper, nickel), and 100 rouble coin (silver).