April 12: The First Man in Space

GagarinIt was on this day in 1961 that Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space when he orbited the Earth in the Vostok 1.

Believe it or not, Gagarin didn’t know he was heading into space until just two days before the mission. General Nikolai Kamanin, the head of the cosmonaut training program, had narrowed down the candidates for the single man mission to two individuals: Gagarin and Gherman Titov. Gagarin had become quite popular amongst his fellow cosmonaut trainees, but Titov was thought to be the tougher candidate. On April 5, Kamanin wrote in his diary, “The only thing that keeps me from picking [Titov] is the need to have the stronger person for the one day flight,” a reference to the planned Vostok 2, an orbital mission that would send a man up in space for a whole day, as opposed to the Vostok 1’s single orbit mission.

On April 9, Gagarin and Titov were informed that Gagarin would get the honor of flying out in space and in true Soviet fashion, the meeting was re-enacted for tv cameras the next day so that there could be recorded documentation of the decision. Surprisingly, many cosmonaut trainees were kept in the dark regarding the decision and didn’t learn that Gagarin was going into space until he was already on his way up. Titov  later became the second person to orbit the Earth, and fourth person overall to fly into space, when he flew aboard Vostok 2 in August 1961.

Gagarin’s trip lasted 108 minutes from launch to landing and after arriving back within the Earth’s atmosphere, Gagarin was ejected from the capsule. His parachute deployed seconds after he was ejected, forcing Gagarin to spend ten minutes slowly floating back to the ground. Shortly after he finally landed, Gagarin was encountered by a farmer and his daughter who were understandably a little scared of the odd sight of a man in an orange suit and space helmet. As Gagarin would later explain, “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!” Gagarin soon became an international icon for going where no man had gone before, but he never returned to space. Tragically, Gagarin died in a plane crash during a routine training flight in March of 1968.

So, let’s raise a glass to the man who first broke the shackles of Earth, let’s drink a Cosmonaut. It’s a futuristic cocktail inspired by space age architecture that is fittingly made with vodka, and as far as I can tell it was created by the Grey Goose company.


  • 2 ounces Vodka
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce Ginger Liqueur
  • 1 dash Cardamom Bitters

Pour all ingredients over a large ice sphere in a spherical rocks glass and garnish with space-candy dusted peeled grape.

Tomorrow: $2


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