A Name Unknown to US

Mar 16 2018

A Name Unknown to US

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Gagarin: First in Space, directed by Pavel Parkhomenko, follows the story of the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin (acted by Yaroslav Zhalnin). The film is set in the 1950’s-60’s in Russia — the era of the Soviet Union’s rule in much of Northern and Central Eurasia. This movie is unique in the sense that it displays dramatic scenes of Gagarin’s life through reflections while he is on his newest excursion.

Who Is Gagarin?

In school I had always heard the famous history about the Space Race between Russia and the United States. I knew that the United States had suffered a major loss when Russia became the first country to send a man into space; however, I never really knew who that man was. Who was the person inside the Russian spacecraft Vostok 1, and what led him to that point?

“Yuri Gagarin”


 Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, the son of  a carpenter, was born in Klushino in Smolensk, Russia in 1934.  He had early beginnings in metal works, and later went on to technical school, where he joined a flying club. His interest in flying led him to attend the Soviet Air Force cadet school, where he would later become a fighter pilot in 1957.

In 1960, Gagarin and 19 other candidates were selected out of 3,000 to compete for the Soviet’s space program. It is believed that Gagarin’s humble beginnings is what led him to receive favor in securing his position. “From humble beginnings come great things” -American proverb.

The First Trip To Space

The Vostok 1 took off from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:07AM on April 12, 1961. Upon lifting, Gagarin exclaimed “Поехали!” (“Poyekhali!”, which means “Let’s go!”) After one orbit around the Earth, the Vostok 1 proceeded to land, which almost ended in a disaster. The cables joining the service and descent modules failed to separate, causing extreme shaking. Gagarin then ejected his parachute and landed safely near the Volga River.

The mission lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes. Now it was known to the world that “А дело бывало — и коза волка съедала”  (which translates to “pigs might fly”) — man could travel into space and return safely.

“The Flight of Vostok 1.”

Gagarin’s Life Post-Space Exploration

After the first step into space, Gagarin became known as an international celebrity. However, his fame was short-lived in a sense. On March 27, 1968 during a routine test, Gagarin and Vladmir Seryogin crashed their two-seater MiG fighter outside of a small town near Moscow. For a while, no one knew what exactly caused the crash.

In 2013, Alexei Leonov, Gagarin’s friend and fellow Russian cosmonaut, confirmed the events that led to the crash. A second jet, bigger than Gagarin’s MiG fighter, was being tested that day, and flew lower than its intended altitude. The jet flew close to the MiG fighter and caused it to roll over and enter into an unrecoverable spiral dive until it collided with the ground.

This Movie Made Me Feel…

A whirlwind of emotions. I was able to not only follow Gagarin’s journey that led to him entering space, but I was also able to see his family and friends’ journeys too.

I hadn’t thought about how Gagarin’s family might have felt seeing him embark on such an unpredictable expedition. After all, he was literally the first person to enter space — ever. In the movie, upon learning that Gagarin was in space, his wife, mother, and father were not celebratory. They were actually quite the opposite. The scene that hit me hardest was when Gagarin’s father, Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin, returned home to find people gathered around a bullhorn celebrating Russia’s new victory, unbeknownst to him. Everyone began congratulating Alexey, which he did not receive very well, understandably so. After all, he didn’t even know that his son was going to be traveling to space. More than likely, Alexey felt waves of shock, sadness, and yet pride for his son. These emotions evidently overwhelmed him, and he was not able to celebrate with the other townsfolk.

After seeing this movie, it made me question the line between being cautious and being supportive of your loved ones. When someone comes to us with a goal that seems completely far fetched, most of us don’t want to be the person to say “Maybe you should try doing something more attainable”. But what if your loved one’s life is at risk? What if their dream had never been done before? What if we know that everyone who has tried doing it before has failed? How much more supportive are we then? Sure — maybe they might just be the first person to pave the way for future generations, but are we willing to gamble that sacrifice?  If we discourage them, we are seen as unsupportive. But if we encourage them, we risk losing the person who we have grown to love. So what do we do?

I wish I had an answer to my questions. I wish it was easy to know what to do in these situations. However, this movie does bring forth an interesting point — sometimes, it’s not about us and what we want. If it were not for Gagarin, we may not have discovered the countless mysteries in we have made in outer space today. I’d certainly recommend this film.


  • “The Flight of Vostok 1.” European Space Agency, www.esa.int/About_Us/Welcome_to_ESA/ESA_history/50_years_of_humans_in_space/The_flight_of_Vostok_1.
  • “Gagarin: First in Space. – Movie Trailer w/ English Subtitles.” YouTube, GagarinFirstInSpace, 17 June 2013, youtu.be/-ya6tGohRIw.
  • History.com Staff. “The Space Race.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2010, www.history.com/topics/space-race.
  • Pruitt, Sarah. “What Really Happened to Yuri Gagarin, the First Man in Space?” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 12 Apr. 2016, www.history.com/news/what-really-happened-to-yuri-gagarin-the-first-man-in-space.
  • “Yuri Gagarin, the First Man to Travel into Space: 12 Quick Facts on Him and the Mission.” India Today, www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/yuri-gagarin-317499-2016-04-12.
  • “Yuri Gagarin – Vostok 1 – April 12 1961.” YouTube, 11 Apr. 2011, youtu.be/bJzygLptwf8.

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