This Soviet cosmonaut was the first human in orbit — fueling the space race

On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin circled the Earth aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1. After parachuting from the craft near the Russian village of Smelovka, Gagarin landed a hero — and a major embarrassment for the US, already stung by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957.

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