Yuri Gagarin was a Soviet cosmonaut born on the 9 March 1934 to a carpenter and bricklayer, and a milkmaid. At the age of 21, Gagarin was drafted in the Soviet Army, becoming a Lieutenant for the Air Force in 1957. In 1960, Yuri Gagarin was selected for the Soviet Space Program along with 19 other but was one of only two selected, Gherman Titov. These two were chosen because of their performance in training but also for their size. Space was limited in the spacecraft cockpit, so the people inside had to be small; Gagarin was 5ft 2in (1.57m) and Titov was 5ft 4in (1.63m).
Yuri Gagarin only went to space once but he was the back up commander for the Soyuz 1 mission in which cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died on the 24 April 1967 after the parachute of the capsule did not open and it crashed into the earth at a high speed.
On the 12th April 1961, Yuri Gagarin boarded the Vostok 1 as the only crew member, and the mission began at 6:07 am. The mission only lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes, far less time than the Vostok 2 mission (1 day, 1 hour, and 18 minutes) in August of the same year. However, the former is far more important as it was the first manned spaceflight in history. Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into outer space, leaving the atmosphere and orbiting the earth. This journey made him an international celebrity, and he toured around the world in the years following the mission.
On the 10 April 1961, two days before his mission, Yuri Gagarin wrote a farewell letter to his wife Valentina in case of his death on the trip to outer space. She received the letter in 1968 following his death in a plane crash.
Gagarin was invited to England by Britain’s Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers, a trade union representing foundries. They invited him because he trained as a steel worker.
Gagarin died on the 27 March 1968 at the age of 34 in a plane crash during a routine training flight from Chkalovsky Air Base. He and Vladimir Sereyogin, his flight instructor, perished in the crash. Many tributes were paid to Gagarin following his death; for example, his hometown of Gzhatsk was renamed to Gagarin, and items commemorating him were left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.