First man in space 50 years ago
by Dorina Márián (Deutsche Zusammenfassung von Heinz-Ulrich Kammeier)
Russia celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first human in
space on 12th April, 1961 by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as
Cosmonautics Day. The Russian Space Agency invited heads of
49 space agencies and astronauts who took part in space expe-
ditions on Soviet and Russian spacecraft to attend the 50th an-
niversary celebration in Moscow on 12th April, 2011. Around the
world, that day was celebrated with parties as Yuri's Night.
”Columbus of Cosmos”
Gagarin was preceded into space by a Russian dog called Laika.
The 1961 flight made Gagarin an international hero. He was
awarded the Order of Lenin and made a deputy of the Soviet
parliament, the Supreme Soviet. It represented a second propa-
ganda coup for the Soviet Union during the Cold War – the first
was the launch of Sputnik – and it heated up the space race with
the United States. NASA’s Apollo missions to the Moon are re-
garded as a direct result of the need in the United States to even
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was born on a farm in a region west
of Moscow, on 9th March,
1934. His father was a carpen-
ter. Yuri attended the local pri-
mary school for six years and continued his studies at vocational and techni-
cal schools. He joined the Russian Air Force in 1955 and graduated with hon-
ors from the Soviet Air Force Academy two years later. He became a military
fighter pilot. By 1959, he had been selected for cosmonaut training as part of
the first group of USSR cosmonauts. Gagarin flew only one space mission.
On 12th April, 1961 he became the first human being to orbit Earth. Vostok 1,
Gagarin’s spacecraft circled Earth at a speed of 27,400 kilometres per hour.
The flight lasted 108 minutes. At its highest point, Gagarin was about 327
kilometres above Earth.
Yuri Gagarin had no control over his spacecraft when he was in orbit.
Vostok’s reentry was controlled by a computer program sending radio com-
mands to the space capsule. The controls were locked, but a key had been
placed in a sealed envelope in case of an emergency situation so that Ga-
garin could have the control. As was planned, Cosmonaut Gagarin ejected af-
ter returning into the Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of about 7000 metres
and landed by parachute.
He converted into an international hero and a worldwide celebrity, touring abroad. He visited Italy, Germany,
Canada, Brazil, Japan, Finland, the United Kingdom and also Hungary to promote the Soviet Union’s accom-
plishment of putting the first human in space.
Gagarin in Hungary
At Ferihegy Airport in Budapest thousands of Hungarians waited to see Gagarin, his wife and his 5 months old
daughter, Galotska in August 1961. He was received in the Parliament by István Dobi the Head of State of Hun-
gary. On Heroe’s square hundred thousands of people greeted the first astronaut of the world who was a hand-
some young man of 27. He became the idol of many Hungarian girls partly thanks to his famous smile which
became known as the „Gagarin smile”. Gagarin basically did not give any autographs while staying in Hungary.
It was said in the radio that only a little child got a signature from him.
Hence, some high positioned politicians asked the first astronaut of the world for autographs. Finally, two close
collegues of Janos Kadar, chairman of the Hungarian Communist Party, got signed photos of him. My father, Dr.
Zoltán Márián, had the chance to contact these two high positioned political persons in the 1990’s. Both of the
old ex-communist politicians gave my father their impressive personally signed Gagarin photos to enrich my fa-
ther collection. (My father has a great collection of about 1500 originally signed photos. Most of them are politi-
cians.) The black and white photos show Gagarin in his uniform with all his medals. The smaller photo is ins-
ribed at the back and it is dated: 19-22 August, 1961. These were the exact days when Gagarin was the most
important guest in Hungary. The bigger photo is quite unique since there are two signatures on the front. Both
Gagarin and his wife Gagarina signed it.
The third photo is also black and white and shows Gagarin in his spacesuit.
This is really a rare one. We can see the letters CCCP (USSR) on the astro-
naut’s space helmet. This signed photo was sent by Gagarin to my father in
1963. Being a young schoolboy, my father wrote a letter to the hero of space
asking for a signed picture. In that time, in the communist era, Russian lan-
guage was obligatory in the Hungarian schools, so the young boy wrote him
in Russian. His letter was corrected by his primary school Russian language
teacher. Gagarin answered the boy soon and sent this signed photo to him,
to the little village where he lived in 1963. The boy became so popular in his
school. Everybody wanted to see his Gagarin autograph.
Colonel Gagarin died on 27th March, 1968 when the MiG-15 airplane he was
piloting crashed near Moscow. He was given a hero’s funeral, his ashes buried in the Kremlin Wall. At the time
of his death, he was in training for a second space mission. Gagarin was only thirty-four years old.
Gagarin was survived by his wife Valentina, and two daughters Elena and Galina. Elena, Yuri’s eldest daughter,
is an art historian now and she works as a director-general of the Moscow Kremlin Museums since 2001. His
youngest daughter, Galina, is a department chair at Plekhanov Russian Economic University in Moscow.
12th April, 2011 is also a special date for me. For the 50th anniversary of
the first man in space my father gave me these three signed photos as a
present. He told me he still remembered how much I liked Gagarin as a lit-
tle child and I was always asking him to show me the handsome astro-
naut’s smiling photos.
Dorina berichtet über den ersten Menschen im Weltraum, den sowjeti-
schen Kosmonauten Juri Gagarin, der 1m 12.04.1961 einen Weltraumflug
unternahm. Nachdem die UdSSR einen Satelliten ins All geschossen hat-
ten, war ihr ein weiterer wissenschaftlicher und technischer Erfolg gelun-
gen, der in den USA Bestürzung auslöste und das Land zu verstärkter An-
strengung motivierte, es der Sowjetunion gleichzutun.
1934 geboren und aus einfachen Verhältnissen stammend, trat Gagarin in
die sowjetische Luftwaffe ein und absolvierte seit 1959 eine Kosmonau-
tenausbildung. Der Flug dauerte 108 Minuten, wobei das Raumschiff von
der Erde aus gesteuert wurde und sich etwa 330 Kilometer über der Erd-
1961 besuchte er Ungarn und wurde als Held auf dem Flughafen empfangen. Er war der Traum vieler ungari-
scher Mädchen jener Tage und galt als „autogrammscheu”. Meinem Vater gelang es Handschriften von ihm zu