1961: Yuri Gagarin & Alan Shepard – First Men in Space
In 1961 mankind first rode rockets into space. The first man in space was Yuri Gagarin, a cosmonaut from the Soviet Union (Russia), orbiting the earth in a flight lasting 108 minutes.
Eager to show that they too could put a man into space, the United States launched astronaut Alan Shepard shortly after Gagarin’s flight. The US was not quite ready to conduct a manned orbital flight, instead settling for a sub-orbital ballistic flight (up and down, rather than around the Earth). Nonetheless, this still qualified as a “space flight”, and the Space Race was on.
The following two videos are dramatisations of these flights, and tributes to two very brave fliers.
1. Yuri Gagarin (April 12, 1961)
2. Alan Shepard (May 5, 1961)
You will notice a major difference in the landing techniques for the Soviet and American spacecraft… The Soviets landed on the land, and the American capsules splashed down in the sea. This remained a major difference in the space programs of the US and the USSR up until the US launched the Space Shuttle in 1981.