This is the year for discussing space tourism after Sir Richard Branson successfully took Virgin Galactic into space and returned safe and sound. It’s a wonderful time for a reminder that 60 years earlier, in 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (1934-1968) was, for all intents and purposes, the “first space tourist.”

Gagarin made his flight at a time when the world was just beginning to think about traveling into space. There were lots of unknowns about space travel at that time, but the courageous and curious Gagarin took on all the challenges and completed a highly successful space mission.

In 1960, at the age of 26, he became one of 20 chosen within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (now Russia) for the cosmonaut program. After many physical and mental tests, Gagarin was the final choice to go into space.

On April 12, 1961, dressed in his spacesuit, Gagarin ascended the stairs to the launch pad. He climbed into the space vehicle, “Vostok I,” and shortly thereafter he took off. The launch was successful; he became the world’s first human to fly in space.

The news of the flight sparked a wave of euphoria across the world; it caused then U.S. President John F. Kennedy to take on the space challenge (hence, the Kennedy Space Center) and advocate for a U.S. astronaut to fly to the moon (and a few years later it happened).

Dave Edgell