April 12 brings a star struck triptych rolled into one, it is the International Day of Human Space Flight, Cosmonautics Day and with a tip of the hat to the chap who started it all, Yuri’s Night.

On April 12, 1961 a 27 year old Soviet pilot Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin took off from Baikonour Cosmodrome in Vostok 1. Setting off with a cry of “Poyehali!” (“Let’s go!”), he completed an orbit of the Earth, the first man to do so. The flight took 108 minutes from start to finish. Great doubts surrounded the landing, so Gagarin bailed from his capsule at 23,000ft and completed his mission by parachute.

Hailed as a Hero of the Soviet Union, Gagarin was sent out on a whirlwind goodwill tour of the world. His stop off in London and manchester included an audience with The Queen, hobnobbing with SuperMac (above), visiting Marx’s grave in Highgate, and swapping flying tips with Navy pilot Eric “Winkle” Brown.

Yuri’s status as celebrity diplomat didn’t necessarily sit well with his life as a career pilot. He never had the opportunity to venture into space again but was part of the back-up crew for Soyuz 1 - warning that additional safety checks were required for that mission.


In 1968, he was killed in a crash while flying in a MiG-15 fighter jet. Theories have ranged from drunkenness, political assassination, open vents, and evasive manoeuvres as a cause.