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Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin (1934)

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  Summary  

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (, ; 9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968) was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961.

Gagarin became an international celebrity, and was awarded many medals and honours, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation's highest honour. Vostok 1 marked his only spaceflight, but he served as backup crew to the Soyuz 1 mission . Gagarin later became deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre outside Moscow, which was later named after him. Gagarin died in 1968 when a MiG 15 training jet he was piloting crashed.

  Biography  

 early life
Gagarin was born in the village of Klushino near Gzhatsk , on 9 March 1934. The adjacent town of Gzhatsk was renamed Gagarin in 1968 in his honour. His parents, Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin and Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina, worked on a collective farm. While manual labourers are described in official reports as "peasants", his mother was reportedly a voracious reader, and his father a skilled carpenter. Yuri was the third of four children, and his elder sister helped raise him while his parents worked. Like millions of people in the Soviet Union, the Gagarin family suffered during Nazi occupation in World War II. After a German officer took over their house, the family constructed a small mud hut where they spent a year and nine months until the end of the occupation. His two older siblings were deported to Nazi Germany for slave labour in 1943, and did not return until after the war. In 1946, the family moved to Gzhatsk.

 death
On 27 March 1968, while on a routine training flight from Chkalovsky Air Base, he and flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin died in a MiG-15UTI crash near the town of Kirzhach. The bodies of Gagarin and Seryogin were cremated and the ashes were buried in the walls of the Kremlin on Red Square. Gagarin was survived by his wife Valentina, and daughters Elena and Galina. Elena Gagarina, Yuri's oldest daughter, is an art historian who works as a director-general of the Moscow Kremlin Museums since 2001. His youngest daughter, Galina, is a department chair at Plekhanov Russian Economic University in Moscow.

 Cause of jet crash
The cause of the crash that killed Gagarin is not entirely certain, and has been subject to speculation and conspiracy theories over the ensuing decades.

Soviet documents declassified in March 2003 showed that the KGB had conducted their own investigation of the accident, in addition to one government and two military investigations. The KGB's report dismissed various conspiracy theories, instead indicating that the actions of air base personnel contributed to the crash. The report states that an air traffic controller provided Gagarin with outdated weather information, and that by the time of his flight, conditions had deteriorated significantly. Ground crew also left external fuel tanks attached to the aircraft. Gagarin's planned flight activities needed clear weather and no outboard tanks. The investigation concluded that Gagarin's aircraft entered a spin, either due to a bird strike or because of a sudden move to avoid another aircraft. Because of the out-of-date weather report, the crew believed their altitude to be higher than it actually was, and could not properly react to bring the MiG-15 out of its spin.

In his 2004 book Two Sides of the Moon, Alexey Leonov recounts that he was flying a helicopter in the same area that day when he heard "two loud booms in the distance." Corroborating other theories, his conclusion is that a Sukhoi jet (which he identifies as a Su-15 'Flagon') was flying below its minimum allowed altitude, and "without realizing it because of the terrible weather conditions, he passed within 10 or 20 meters of Yuri and Seregin's plane while breaking the sound barrier." The resulting turbulence would have sent the MiG into an uncontrolled spin. Leonov believes the first boom he heard was that of the jet breaking the sound barrier, and the second was Gagarin's plane crashing.

Another theory, advanced by the original crash investigator in 2005, hypothesizes that a cabin air vent was accidentally left open by the crew or the previous pilot, leading to oxygen deprivation and leaving the crew incapable of controlling the aircraft. A similar theory, published in Air & Space magazine, is that the crew detected the open vent and followed procedure by executing a rapid dive to a lower altitude. This dive caused them to lose consciousness and crash.

On 12 April 2007, the Kremlin vetoed a new investigation into the death of Gagarin. Government officials said that they saw no reason to begin a new investigation.

In April 2011, documents from a 1968 commission set up by the Central Committee of the Communist Party to investigate the accident were declassified. Those documents revealed that the commission's original conclusion was that Gagarin or Seryogin had maneuvered sharply either to avoid a weather balloon, leading the jet into a "super-critical flight regime and to its stalling in complex meteorological conditions," or to avoid "entry into the upper limit of the first layer of cloud cover".

legacy
Aside from his short stature at , one of Gagarin's most notable traits was his smile. Many commented on how Gagarin's smile gained the attention of many in the crowd on the frequent tours Gagarin did in the months after the Vostok 1 mission success.

Gagarin also garnered a reputation as an adept public figure. When he visited Manchester in the United Kingdom, it was pouring with rain; however, Gagarin insisted that the car hood remain back so that the cheering crowds could catch a glimpse of him. Gagarin stated, "If all these people have turned out to welcome me and can stand in the rain, so can I." Gagarin refused an umbrella and remained standing in his open-top Bentley so that the cheering crowds could still see him.

Sergei Korolev, one of the masterminds behind the early years of the Soviet space program, later said that Gagarin possessed a smile "that lit up the Cold War".

Gagarin was also honored by the American space program during Apollo 11 when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left on the surface of the Moon a memorial bag containing metals commemorating Gagarin and fellow cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. On 1 August 1971, Apollo 15 astonauts David Scott and James Irwin left the Fallen Astronaut on the surface of the Moon as a memorial to all the American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts that died in the Space Race, with Yuri Gagarin listed among 14 others.

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  Sources

Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Yuri Gagarin", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.