Vostok 1: How the first spacecraft to take humans into space worked

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space 

On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to reach low-Earth orbit, otherwise known as ‘space’. He travelled there inside a metal sphere known as Vostok 1, the world’s first manned spacecraft, beating American Alan Shepard into space by just 25 days.

Vostok 1 was a spherical cabin, coated entirely in an ablative material to act as a heat shield as it re-entered the atmosphere. There was a window out of which Gagarin could view the Earth, and an ejector seat for his return (as he would separate from the capsule as it re-entered the atmosphere). Beneath Vostok 1 was a service module containing the chemical batteries and rockets to manoeuvre the spacecraft. After almost one complete orbit of Earth, lasting 68 minutes, the spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere and landed in Kazakhstan an hour and 48 minutes after launch.

As Gagarin ejected from the spacecraft before it landed, under FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) rules it did not qualify as an actual space flight, although the Russians kept this quiet for several years after. Nonetheless, Gagarin was still the first human to venture into space.

Vostok 1

Inside Vostok 1

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