Vostok 1 capsule, 1961.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Model (scale 1:6). On 12th April 1961 Yuri Gagarin was launched into orbit by a Vostok rocket and became the first man in space. The craft was controlled from the ground, as it was unknown what effect the weightles environment of orbit would have on a cosmonaut and his ability to operate the controls. Gagarin did have a key to the controls, however, sealed in an envelope for use in an emergency. After completing one orbit in a flight lasting 1 hour and 48 minutes, the spacecraft's automatic controls brought him safely back to Earth. After re-entry, Gagarin had to eject from the capsule and parachute to safety, a feature of the early Vostok craft kept secret by the Soviet authorities as it would have fallen foul of FAI rules regarding eligibility for space world records.