Advance Performance | Yuri Gargarin: The ordinary citizen who had the courage to step into the unknown
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Yuri Gargarin: The ordinary citizen who had the courage to step into the unknown

Yuri Gargarin: The ordinary citizen who had the courage to step into the unknown

I wonder how many of us would risk our lives when those around us are saying that terrible things may happen to us if we carried on? And when we hear these stories how many of us are aware how they shape our lives?

On the 12th April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to leave our planet’s atmosphere and venture out into space. He became an icon of the 20th Century.

Here was a moment in history that can never be repeated. The moment when one of our kind first ventured into space. Many have followed but Yuri was the first.

He was no superman. He was mortal and flawed like the rest of us. He was born on March 9th 1934 in the village of Klushino about 160 kilometres from Moscow. His childhood was dominated by the German army attacking the Soviet Union’s border, culminating in 1942 when they actually fired on Klushino.  Having survived the onslaught and at the age of 16 he wanted to get away from the family home and earn a living, as he saw that life was hard for his parents and he didn’t want to become a burden on them

He enrolled and was finally accepted as an apprentice at a steel works in Moscow. In 1955 he graduated with ‘excellent grades’. On the recommendation of his tutor he enrolled in the pilot’s school as well as having to obeying Russian Law which stated that for anyone to become a pilot they  first had to sign up as a military cadet.

In 1959 a ‘mysterious recruiting team’ arrived at the air station he was serving at. He was chosen along with many of his colleagues. They were spirited away to a military hospital where they were subjected to some eye watering physical and mental tests. Over the next 2 years he trained and became a fully-fledged ‘cosmonaut’.

At 5.00 am on the 12th April he was woken and taken to the Vostoc space capsule. At 8.51 with the sound of ‘deep low vibrations and many rumbles’ he was transported of this world.

The flight lasted just 108 minutes and scientists at the time feared that the zero gravity would cause him to lose the ability to control his mind and body, so the control of the craft was handled on earth.

Like Neil Armstrong’s famous ‘One small step for man…’ speech – Yuri was he was heard to say ‘Poyelchali’ (Here we go). This made him an international star. The whole expedition was nearly a disaster as, during the descent, the capsule didn’t detach from the main spacecraft causing it to spin out of control almost burning up on re-entry.

Thankfully everything went well. and on his landing he became an instant icon with his face shown all over the world.  He travelled the world, talked to numerous world leaders and always spoke and acted with sincerity, despite being in turmoil. Behind the happy face he was being torn apart by powerful political pressures, and fighting a losing battle with alcoholism bought on by him rebelling against a corrupt regime.

Unlike today when we witnessed Tim Peake running a marathon and talking to the Queen whilst on the Space Station, Yuri was operating behind the Iron Curtain, where the USSR Propaganda team controlled all public communication.

At this point it is worth considering his courage as no one knew what would happen. Would he become “mad” or be horrible disfigured as the theories of the day predicted? He risked himself entirely. He said at the time ‘I don’t think there were any grounds for me to be particularly anxious about the flight’.  It’s no wonder we are in awe of cosmonauts. The very few who have braved the unknown of life outside the confines of our planet.

The sad thing about Yuri is that he died so young. At the age of 34 he was killed when the MiG-15 he was piloting crashed. There have been theories about the crash and unfortunately, we will probably never know the full story.

What we have left is the legacy of a brave resilient man. A man that has his name etched into many of our minds and history. He surely is a man we can all look to when saying ‘I can do that’.