Soviet Cosmonaut. He was the first human into outer space, making one orbit of the earth in an hour and 48 minutes of flight. Born the third of four children in Klushino, near Gzhatsk, his parents were workers on a Soviet collective farm; his father was a carpenter and his mother a homemaker. During World War II, his family suffered significantly, as did many Soviet families, and his two elder siblings were taken to Germany in 1943 as forced labor; they did not return to the family until several years after the war. Highly intelligent, Gagarin was greatly influenced by his math teacher, who was a pilot in the Red Air Force during World War II. After beginning an apprenticeship in a metalworks factory and while attending technical school, Gagarin joined the local aero club, and learned to fly small planes. In 1955, he entered military flight training at the Orenburg Pilot's School, graduating two years later as a MiG-15 pilot. While there, he met Valentina Gorycheva, and they married shortly after his pilot's graduation. Following graduation, he was posted to an airbase in the Murmansk region, near the border with Norway. In 1960, he was selected along with 19 other men, for the Soviet space program. Of the twenty, he was eventually selected to become the first cosmonaut, probably due to his excellent performance during training, his modest upbringing, and his genial outgoing personality. On April 12, 1961, Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, in Vostok 1 (Russian designation: Vostok 3KA-2). While still in orbit, he was promoted from Senior Lieutenant to Major (skipping the rank of Captain), because many senior political leaders thought he would probably die rather than survive the flight. Upon his return, Gagarin became an instant celebrity, and toured the world to promote the Soviet achievements in space. Following his world tour, he returned to his duties at Star City, the cosmonaut training facility, where he continued to train and worked on a design for a reusable spacecraft. In 1967, he was selected as the backup for the first Soyuz launch, and was selected to be the Deputy Training Director of the space academy, a position that required him to requalify as a fighter pilot. On March 27, 1968, he was killed in the crash of his two-seat MiG-15 Trainer, along with his instructor, while on a training flight near Kirzhach. While the exact cause of the crash remains uncertain, poor weather and the nearby pass of an SU-11 Interceptor (causing turbulence) were considered contributing factors. Following his death, his hometown of Gzhatsk was renamed Gagarin in his honor.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson
Valentina Ivanovna Goryacheva Gagarina