As Yuri Gagarin left the Earth’s atmosphere, his achievement built upon an incredible, 60-year technological journey. Gagarin’s historic flight was the direct result of decades of development beginning with the rickety aircraft of World War I, moving onto the V-1 rockets of Germany and into the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) of the Cold War. After World War II, these missiles became the focal point of world affairs as the United States and the Soviet Union continued to build up bigger and bigger arsenals.
The R-7 rocket that carried Gagarin and Vostok 1 into space was originally one such ICBM. The spacecraft Vostok 1 was mounted on top of the massive rocket and on April 12, 1961, Gagarin was the first human being to enter orbit. The same rockets that were designed for destruction were now contributing to one of the greatest accomplishments in human history. Gagarin was only 27 years old when he made his incredible journey into space. Gagarin’s journey helped encourage a new age of space exploration that continues today.
An interesting fact is that the same launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome from which Gagarin made his historic flight is still used today to send astronauts to the International Space Station in Soyuz capsules.