On April 12, 1961 Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in space.
He completed a single orbit of Earth during a flight that lasted 108 minutes from launch to landing.
The Soviet Union's human spaceflight project was called the Vostok Programme. The first mission, Vostok 1.
"Poyekhali" ("Let's go") said Gagarin as his Vostok spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrone at 6.07 UTC.
Gagarin's flight reached orbit at an altitude of about 327 km and travelled at a speed of 27,400 km per hour.
After completing the first orbit of Earth it was time for the Vostok craft to return to Earth. Cables connecting the re-entry module did not release and the craft began a bumpy re-entry. Fortunately the connecting wires burnt through and Gagarin's re-entry module was released and Gagarin was able to parachute to a safe landing as planned.
At 7.55 UTC Moscow announced on the radio that Gagarin had landed safely.
After his flight Gagarin became a national hero and international celebrity, visiting many countries during a world tour between 25 April and August 1961.
Yuri Gagarin with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The UK was one of many countries visited by Gagarin during his world tour.
Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin was born on 9 March 1934 in a village called Klushino in the Soviet Union. After school and qualifying as a metal worker he pursued his interest in flying and joined the Orenburg Military Aviation School, signing up as a piliot with the Soviet Air Force in 1956. In October 1959, Gagarin and 19 other pilots from the Soviet Air Force were selected for Cosmonaut training at a purpose built site named Star City in Moscow. Gagarin began his cosmonaut training in January 1960.
Two cosmonauts had been shortlisted for the first flight, the other was Gherman Titov. Two days before the launch, Gagarin was informed he had been chosen.
Titov had to wait, but he did become the second person to orbit Earth when, on August 6, 1961, he flew aboard Vostok 2. Orbiting the Earth 17 times Titov, at the age of 25, remains the youngest person ever to fly in space and the first to sleep in space. But it was Gagarin who got first orbit.
Before boarding the spacecraft, 27 year old Gagarin recorded a message for the world:
"Dear Friends, known and unknown to me, my dear compatriots and all people of the world. In the next few minutes a mighty spaceship will carry me off into the distant spaces of the universe. What can I say to you during these last minutes before the start? All my life now appears as a single beautiful moment to me. All I have done and lived for has been done and lived for for this moment. It is difficult for me to analyse my feelings now that the hour of trial for which we have prepared so long and passionately, is so near. It's hardly worth talking about the feelings I experienced when I was asked to make this first space flight in history. Joy? No, it was not only joy. Pride? No, it was not only pride. I was immensely happy to be the first in outer space, to meet nature face to face in this unusual single-handed encounter. Could I possibly have dreamed of more? Then I thought of the tremendous responsibility I had taken on: to be the first to accomplish what generations of people dreamed of: to be the first to pave the way for humanity to outer space. Can you name a more complex task than the one I am undertaking? This is a responsibility, not to one, not to many, and not to a collective group. This is a responsibility to all the Soviet people, to all of humanity, to its present and future. I know I have to summon all my will power to carry out my assignment to the best of my ability. I understand the importance of my mission and shall do all I can to fulfill the assignment for the Communist party and the Soviet people.
Only a few minutes are left before the start. I am saying goodbye to you, dear friends as people always say goodbye to each other when leaving on a long journey."
Yuri Gagarin enjoys time with his daughters Elena and Galina.
Gagarin's space flight has been re-created by filmmaker Chris Riley. "First Orbit" recreates Gagarin’s historic flight as he himself would have seen it. First Orbit used footage collected in collaboration with the European Space Agency and the International Space Station to depict Gagarin’s view during the 108-minute flight, complete with recordings of Gagarin during the flight and an original score by composer Philip Sheppard.
VIDEO: watch "First Orbit" a recreation of Gagarin's space flight.
Gagarin did not fly in space again. Soviet authorities, keen to protect their hero, banned him from further space flights. Grounded from space, he worked for the Soviet space programme and trained other cosmonauts at Star City. He remained a member of the the Soviet Air Force and achieved the rank of Colonel in 1963.
In 1965 he was permitted to re-enter the cosmonaut selection pool and was chosen as a back-up for the first Soyuz flight - a flight which ended in a fatal crash.
Although he had been protected against the risks of space flight, Gagarin was killed aged just 34 when, on 27 March 1968, his MiG plane crashed during a training flight. He was survived by his wife, Valentina, and his two daughters Elena and Galina. His ashes were buried in the walls of the Kremlin on Red Square, Moscow.
Yuri Gagarin's life and achievement is celebrated around the world on April 12 each year - because its "Yuri's night".