Yuri Gagarin became first man in space 55 years ago

Story highlights

  • Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin made history with his 108-minute space flight in 1961
  • NASA hopes to get astronauts to Mars in the 2030s

(CNN)Tuesday marks 55 years since cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.

In Russia, April 12 is known as Cosmonautics Day. During a United Nations General Assembly meeeting in 2011, this day was declared International Day of Human Space Flight by 60 countries.
    The Vostok 1 spacecraft was launched into space from a Soviet launch site on the morning of April 12, 1961. Gagarin spent 108 minutes in the tiny capsule, completing the first human orbit around the Earth before landing back on Soviet soil.
    "But after his first flight, he wanted to fly again in space. He wanted to continue his work as a pilot and as a cosmonaut," his daughter, Elena Gagarin told Andrea Rose of the British Council in a 2011 interview.
    Upon his return to Earth, the Soviet cosmonaut became an international hero. His mission to space was groundbreaking and raised the stakes in the competition between the Soviet Union and the United States to advance space exploration..
    Gagarin remained an important figure worldwide because of his achievement and his inspirational, if tragically short, life as a carpenter's son who went on to become one of the 20th century's biggest names, Rose told CNN in 2011.
    The former space veteran didn't live long enough to see the hundreds of people who would eventually follow his footsteps and take the journey to space. Gagarin, a husband and father of two, died in a plane crash in 1968.
    Space exploration has continued to advance in the 55 years since Gagarin's first journey into orbit. NASA hopes to lead the world on a journey to Mars in the 2030s.