Younger readers may be a little surprised that the first human in space was a Russian Cosmonaut. Blasting off for an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961 with a declaration of "Let's go!", Yuri Gagarin went down in history a few weeks before US Astronaut Alan Shepard made his successful orbit.
Air force pilot and math whiz Gagarin was also quite short - around 5'2" - a necessary accommodation as the Vostock 1 spacecraft was physically small. His flight lasted around 108 minutes, and was a big part of the whole "space race" mentality between the Soviets and Americans during that time.
The Russians had also launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, in 1957.
Unfortunately, Gagarin died young at age 34 in 1968 during a supposedly routine training flight. He never went back to into space.
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