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Yuri Gagarin: First Human in Space, April 12, 1961

Fifty years ago, a Russian man of humble origins was the first human to ever travel into space. Yuri Gagarin quickly became a household name and a celebrated hero in the Soviet Union pulled ahead of the United States in the Space Race. Though he would never fly to space again, Gagarin offered humanity its first glimpse of the endless universe from his own perspective.

Four days after his flight, Gagarin told the world about the Earth as seen form space.

I would like to tell you a little bit about what I observed.

The view of the Earth from an altitude of 175-300 km is very sharp. The Earth’s surface looks approximately the same as seen from a high-flying jet plane. Clearly distinctive are large mountain ranges, large rivers, large forest areas, shorelines and islands.

The clouds which cover the Earths’ surface are very visible, and their shadow on the Earth can be seen distinctly. The color of the sky is completely black. The stars on this black background seem to be somewhat brighter and clearer. The Earth is surrounded by a characteristic blue halo. This halo is particularly visible at the horizon. From a light-blue coloring, the sky blends into a beautiful deep blue, then dark blue, violet, and finally complete black.

When I left the Earth’s shadow, the Sun’s rays penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere. At this point, the Earth’s horizon was dark blue, violet and finally black.

The transition into the Earth’s shadow took place very rapidly. Darkness comes instantly and nothing can be seen. Obviously, the spaceship passed over the ocean during this period of time. If the spaceship would have passed over large cities, then I would have probably been able to see the lights of those cities. The stars were well visible.

Gagarin goes on to say that flying to Venus and Mars is his greatest dream, but Gagarin would die in 1969 just months before men would land on the moon. A lifelong pilot, Gagarin died when the plane he was flying — his first flight since 1961 — crashed. He was honored by his country and  the crew of Apollo 11, when astronauts left one of Gagarin’s medals on the moon.

Read on below to see a short video of Gagarin’s liftoff on that historical flight.

(The Atlantic, image via Vintage Space)

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