Here, the senior curator of a Science Museum exhibition charting the Soviet scientific and technological ingenuity that kick-started the space age (‘Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age’, which ran until March 2016) reveals eight things you (probably) didn’t know about Yuri Gagarin:
1) When he set off for space, Gagarin was dressed in a bright orange spacesuit and a helmet inscribed with ‘CCCP’ painted in red. The painted letters were a last minute addition, marking Gagarin as a Soviet citizen so that he would be recognised after parachuting to safety following ejection from the spacecraft
2) Gagarin took off with the words ‘Poyehali!’ (Let’s go!)
3) The astronaut was just 27 years old when he set off on his legendary flight
4) Gagarin’s rocket was an adapted missile, called R-7 or ‘Semyorka’. The rocket carried his ‘Vostok’ spacecraft, which translates as ‘east’ in Russian
5) It is said that Gagarin made a good impression on chief designer Korolev when he followed the Russian custom for entering a home and took off his shoes before getting into the newly designed Vostok spacecraft
6) Since 12 April 1961, the anniversary of Gagarin’s first flight has been celebrated in Russia as a holiday known as Cosmonautics Day
7) Yuri Gagarin was also back-up commander for the ill-fated Soyuz 1 mission, which crashed on 24 April 1967. He died in a training flight the following year
8) Gagarin trained as a steel worker and was invited to visit England in July 1961, just months after his historic mission, by Britain’s Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers
Gagarin – First in Space, a biopic about Yuri Gagarin’s life and his road to becoming the first man in space, is now available on DVD.
You can find more historical space travel facts here.