Today (April 12) marks the 60th anniversary of the daring launch that sent the first human into space, paving the way for manned space exploration of the cosmos. 

On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first person to leave Earth’s orbit and travel into space. His historic flight lasted 108 minutes, during which he orbited Earth in the Soviet Union’s Vostok spacecraft, guided entirely by an automatic control system. This amazing feat set a significant milestone in the space race, as competition grew between the United States and the Soviet Union to develop more advanced spaceflight capabilities. With the success of Gagarin’s flight, the Soviet Union had beaten the United States at putting a human in space by just about three weeks, with American astronaut Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight on May 5, 1961