Yuri Gagarin Biography

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On 12 April 1961, Baikonur Cosmodrome in what is now Kazakhstan picked up a transmission that changed human history. “I can see the clouds. I can see everything. It’s beautiful!” Spoken in a youthful Russian voice, those words came from a place no human had ever gone before. Sat 327 km above the surface of the Earth, Yuri Gagarin had just become the first man to ever visit space. Outside his window, our planet hung brilliant blue against the cold darkness of the universe. 

Thanks to this one Russian pilot, mankind would now have a whole new frontier to explore; a frontier we’re still trying to tame six decades later. Today, the name Yuri Gagarin remains world-famous, up there right beside Neil Armstrong in terms of amazing firsts. But who really was this Soviet spaceman, and how did he come to be sitting in that capsule?

Born into a poor peasant family on the eve of WWII, Gagarin could’ve easily never amounted to much. But thanks to the sheer force of his talent, he wound up changing history. In the video today, Biographics is strapping into its Soyuz and aiming for the stars, as we uncover the life of the very first spaceman. Hard Times If you were picking a time and place in which to be born, 1934 and Klushino would probably be far down your list. That’s because Klushino is a poor village in western Russia. 

The sort of place where hens roam the streets and living in a weathered wooden shack is practically a luxury. But it’s also because Klushino at this particular point in time was undergoing a painful decade. In 1934, the Soviet countryside was already in the throes of a Stalinist agricultural shakeup that resulted in a whole ton of poverty and famine. In just a few years, it would be shaken up even harder, when Nazi Germany invaded.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, just know that when Yuri Gagarin was born in Klushino on March 9, 1934, it wasn’t into circumstances that screamed: “Hey, isn’t this great!” The third of four children, Gagarin was the son of a carpenter and a milkmaid, both of whom worked on the nearby collective farm. This being Soviet Russia, that meant doing backbreaking work for a pittance while wallowing in poverty. It’s been suggested the reason Gagarin never grew beyond 157 cm - or 5ft 2 in old money - was down to childhood malnutrition. Yet, despite this unpromising start, the boy Yuri seems to have been relatively content. One feature everyone who encountered him seems to remember is that he was always smiling. 

A big, open smile that would one day win him, friends, across the globe. But first, the boy would have to survive a period in which there was very little to smile about. On June 22, 1941, when Gagarin was only 7, Nazi Germany launched a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union. For the first couple of years of WWII, Hitler and Stalin had been allies. But now, as Panzer tanks rolled across the flat grasslands of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, all the hatred between the two came bubbling out. 

When the German frontlines reached Klushino, the Nazis threw the Gagarin family out their home, forcing them to build a mud hut a mere3 meters square to live in. Gagarin’s two older siblings were arrested and sent as slave labor to camps in Poland. When Gagarin and his younger brother Boris were caught trying to sabotage German vehicles by sticking potatoes up their tailpipes, enraged soldiers tried to hang Boris from an apple tree. 

It was only when Gagarin’s parents begged on their knees for their five-year-old son’s life that the Nazis relented. Yet even amid the apocalyptic horrors of life on the eastern front, Gagarin still managed to find inspiration. One clear day, a pair of German Messerschmittswere engaged by two Soviet Yaks in a dogfight high above Klushino. One Nazi plane was destroyed in the fight, while one of the Yaks was shot down. 

Like the rest of the villagers, 7-year oldGagarin rushed to help the downed Soviet airman. But when he reached him, the boy couldn’t move. Couldn’t do anything but stare at this impossible man who’d fallen out the sky. It’s said that this was the moment YuriGagarin first decided to become a pilot. Finally, in 1945, Germany was defeated and peace declared in Europe. In the aftermath of the Nazi occupation, Gagarin’sdad decided to move the entire household to the town of Gzhatsk. 

Like, literally. Mr. Gagarin sawed up the family’s wooden shack, transported it bit by bit to Gzhatsk, and rebuilt it by hand for them to live in. It would be from this humble, reconstructed shack on the fringes of this anonymous town that Yuri Gagarin would truly begin his journey to the stars. The Sky’s the Limit Compared to the deprivation of Klushino, Gzhatskwas practically a paradise. There was work for Gagarin’s parents. 

A sizeable school where Yuri could make friends and meet girls. There was also an aviation club the teenager joined, where he learned all about aircraft despite being too young to fly. Not that he yet seemed pilot material. When Gagarin left school at 16, it wasn't to enroll in the Air Forces. It was to train to be a foundryman, a decent enough job in the USSR, but not one that usually leads to a YouTube channel in the far future doing videos on you. Gagarin, too, must’ve sensed this was a dead end. 

After a single year, in 1951, he transferred away from his studies, away from his family, all the way down the brand-new technical school in Saratov. Supposedly, he was there to study tractors. But were you to ask the teenage Gagarin anything about them, he’d have probably just given you one of his trademark shy smiles. That’s because Gagarin was really in Saratovfor one reason. 

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