Baikonur Cosmodome (JFK+50) On the morning of April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union successfully launched both the first man into outer space as well as the first to orbit the earth. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's* space flight aboard the "Vostok I" lasted 108 minutes. The spacecraft took Gagarin as high as 203 miles above the earth.
While Vostok was the first vehicle capable of reaching high enough speed to attain orbit, it was not equipped with thrusters to slow down its return to earth. Therefore, Gagarin ejected from the space craft 4 miles above the earth and parachuted to the ground.
This fact was kept secret for a decade because the International Aeronautics Federation stipulated that a pilot must land with his spacecraft in order to be counted as an "official space flight."
None-the-less, President John F. Kennedy was forced to acknowledge the United States remained behind the Russians in the space race. JFK said... "the news will be worse before it gets better."
*Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin (1934-1968) was born in Klushino, USSR & studied at Saratov Industrial Technical School. Afterwards, he was drafted into the Soviet Army. YAG was killed test-flying a MiG 15.
"Six Surprising Facts About the First Manned Space Mission", by Amanda Schupak, April 6, 2011, www.livescience.com/
"Yuri Gagarin: First Man In Space, The Great Moments In Flight", by Nola Taylor Redd, www.space.com/