Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human being to cross into outer space in his capsule Vostok 1 as many as 60 years ago.
Sixty years ago on Monday, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome atop a variation of a rocket originally designed to launch nuclear weapons to become the first person to orbit the Earth. Though his flight lasted only one hour and 48 minutes, it was a historic event.
Gagarin's spacecraft was launched on April 12, 1961 and it reached back on earth on May 3, 1961.
The 108-minute-long journey set a major milestone in the Space race between the USA and the Soviet Union.
Gagarin was 27 years old when he achieved the feat. Two days before blastoff, he even wrote a farewell letter to his wife, sharing his pride in being chosen to ride in Vostok 1 but also trying to console her in the event of his death, news agency AP reported.
"I fully trust the equipment, it mustn't let me down. But if something happens, I ask you Valyusha not to become broken by grief," he wrote.
Gagarin had a lot to be nervous about. He'd only been chosen for the mission over Titov four days earlier and, though he'd trained hard for the mission, he hadn't seen the actual spacecraft until he arrived at Baikonur.
On the way to the launch pad, Gagarin asked for the bus to stop, so he could relieve himself on one of the tires, starting what became a tradition that cosmonauts follow to this day.
Up until reaching orbit, Vostok 1 was a deep secret.
It was decided during planning to announce the mission to the world after lift-off. This was partly to make sure Vostok 1 wasn't mistaken for a military reconnaissance aircraft and also as a way of alerting other countries if the capsule landed in the wrong place and a rescue mission needed to be mounted. Shortly afterward, the American NSA confirmed that Vostok was real when an undisclosed listening station intercepted its capsule television transmissions of Gagarin.
As for Gagarin, he had nothing to do but look out the porthole and describe the view as the autopilot did all the work. Even his spacesuit was designed to automatically protect him if the cabin lost pressure. In that event, its visor would snap shut by itself and his seat's life support system would sustain him for up to four hours.
If the engine had failed, Vostok carried enough food, water, and oxygen to keep Gagarin alive until natural orbital decay returned him to Earth in 10 days. That was the theory. In fact, he was in the wrong orbit and wouldn't have come down for 20 days.
Six decades after the landmark achievement, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday said the country should remain a great power in space.
"In the 21st century, Russia must retain its status as a nuclear and space power," Putin said in televised remarks.
The day of Gagarin's flight is celebrated every year in Russia as Cosmonautics Day.