Yuri Gagarin’s Final Moments on Earth

This photo has been taken from the video footage of the world’s first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-68) as he is being prepared for the launch of the world’s first manned space flight. The location is Baikonur Cosmodrome in present-day Kazakhstan just a few days before 12 April 1961.



In 1960 Yuri Gagarin was chosen among twenty candidates to be the test pilot in the Soviet space program. He and his fellow pilots Gherman Titov and Grigori Nelyubov were the three strongest candidates. The final decision as to who will be the pilot was made only four days prior the flight by Nikolay Kamanin and “The Chief Designer” Sergey Korolev. One of the main reasons was that Gagarin was the shortest of the three and this was an advantage in the small space capsule.

11 April 1961

A day before the launch, the Vostok-K rocket, and the Vostok 3KA space capsule were transported to the launchpad in a horizontal position and lifted upwards at Site No 1.

At 10 AM final review of the flight plan was discussed with the pilots and Gagarin was confirmed as the primary pilot, Titov remained the backup pilot. Gagarin was very happy with the decision and Titov was, of course, disappointed. The launch was scheduled at 6:07 UTC (9:07 Moscow time) the next day and the cosmonauts were advised to relax and not discuss the forthcoming mission.

“The Sochi Six”. Standing, from left: cosmonauts P. Popovich, G. Nelyubov, G. Titov, V. Bykovsky. Sitting, from left: cosmonauts A. Nikolayev, Y. Gagarin, S. Korolev (head of the space program), Karpov (director for the education), N. Nikitin (parachute instructor). Group vacation in Sochi. Unknown author (May 1961).

So Gagarin and Titov spent the day playing pool, listening to music and having a relaxed chat about their childhood. In the evening both of the cosmonauts were offered sleeping pills, but both of them declined.

On the contrary, Korolev did not sleep the whole night due to anxiety. It was going to be the 24th space flight and so far only half of them had succeeded giving only 50% probability of success.

12 April 1961

On the next day at 2:30 UTC (5:30 Moscow time) both of the cosmonauts were woken up, given breakfast and assisted into their spacesuits. One of the assistants has later recalled that Gagarin looked more pale than usual. He only replied yes and no but seemed very focused.

One of the final decisions had been the painting of “CCCP” on the cosmonauts’ helmets. The idea was to clearly identify a Soviet cosmonaut once he lands on the ground in case uninformed local officials will find him first. It was only one year since the American U-2 spy plane with Francis Gary Powers had been shot down over Russia.


At 4:10 UTC Gagarin entered the spacecraft. There was some hassle with the hatch as the engineers tried to close it for another forty minutes. Meanwhile, Gagarin and Korolev chatted through the radio and some music was played to Gagarin. Finally, everything was ready and the launch took place at 6:07 UTC as planned.

Korolev said: “Preliminary stage….. intermediate….. main….. lift off! We wish you a good flight. Everything is all right

And Gagarin famously replied:

Poyekhali! (Let’s go!)
-Yuri Gagarin

The Flight

In ten minutes Gagarin already reached the orbit and in thirty minutes he crossed into the night at Hawaii. The whole spaceflight lasted one hour and 48 minutes. The spacecraft was on autopilot and Gagarin had plenty of time to gaze out of the small window. He was amazed by the beauty of planet Earth and was allegedly singing the patriotic tune “The Motherland Listens” while floating in the orbit.

At 7:25 the automatic systems began preparing for re-entry and at 7:55 Gagarin was ejected from the capsule as planned. After a ten-minute parachute flight, Gagarin landed on a field just 280 km to the west from the planned landing site. He told the two farmers, who were in shock after witnessing a strange pilot landing on their field “Don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!



Today’s featured photo was brought to us by our special guest Hedieh from Iran who is one of our subscribers. She studied political science in New Jersey and currently lives in Canada.

Hedieh says about the Gagarin photo:
“Yuri Gagarin is a Pioneer, a human who goes to space for the first time with limited resources, it is only simple in words. His mission into space is both personal and universal; this is how I relate to him. His humble personality after his return to Earth made him even more merited to be the number one choice.”



All stills are from the Russian TV Documentary Он мог быть первым. Драма космонавта Нелюбова” (“He Could Be the First. The Drama of Cosmonaut Nelyubov”) (2007)

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