On April 12, 1961, Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to leave Earth’s atmosphere and usher in a new era of space exploration.
Though Gagarin’s journey in a small Vostok capsule was a single orbit and took only 108 minutes, its implications that man could leave his earthly confines were huge.
This first flight was also a huge blow to the United States’ ego. As an extension of the Cold War, they were in a contentious race with the Soviet Union for space supremacy. The U.S.’s own first orbit followed in February 7, 1962 with John Glen’s Friendship 7 mission.
Since that time, the Cold War, as well as the Soviet Union, has ceased to be. Nations that were at one time adversaries, have become partners in pursuing space travel. The spirit of collaboration has yielded countless advances for humanity: technology, medicine, weather science, physics, biology – not to mention how we observe the cosmos as a whole.
To commemorate that first flight, the United Nations General Assembly has declared April 12 as the International Day of Human Space Flight.
“I am confident that the International Day of Human Space Flight will remind us of our common humanity and our need to work together to conquer shared challenges. I hope it will also inspire young people in particular to pursue their dreams and move the world towards new frontiers of knowledge and understanding,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in 2011.
PHOTOS: Yuri Gagarin and the first manned space flight
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