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50 years ago today… 5 April 1961

50 years ago today, Soviet air force pilot Lt. Yuri A. Gagarin didn’t know he would become be the first human into space in just a week’s time. Gagarin and his colleagues, Gherman Titov and Grigori Nelyubov, were all in training for the first flights of the Vostok spacecraft, but the Soviet leadership had not yet formally authorized the flight nor assigned a cosmonaut. What’s more, the United States was racing to put a man in space as well, and although they lagged behind the Soviet Union, a surprise was still possible. Each man trained for the upcoming flight, now only a week away,  as if he would be the pilot.

On April 5th, 1961, the cosmonauts flew to the launch centre with their medical team and a film crew. They are greeted by Sergei Korolev, the mastermind behind the Soviet space program. Korolev pushes for a decision on who will fly first, to no avail. General Kaminin, the man in charge of cosmonaut selection and training, will not make a final decision yet. That night, three young cosmonauts go to sleep, not knowing which of them will soon become the most famous person in the world.

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Scott Young

Manager of Science Communications and Visitor Experiences

“Scott is the Planetarium Astronomer at the Manitoba Museum, developing astronomy and science programs. He has been an informal science educator for thirty years, working in the planetarium and science centre field both at The Manitoba Museum and also at the Alice G. Wallace Planetarium in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Scott is an active amateur astronomer and a past-President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.”