Soviet Space Pioneers

Part of the Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration exhibition.

The Soviet space program--inspired by earlier Russian visionaries who wrote of multi-stage rockets and Earth-orbiting satellites long before those ever existed--soared in the late 1950s and early 1960s, along with the nation's pride in its achievements. 

The small satellite Sputnik 1--the word means "fellow traveler" in Russian--was the first human-made object to enter space. It orbited Earth for three months in 1957 before burning up as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere.

Sputnik 1

1961: FIRST MAN IN SPACE Yuri Gagarin
On April 12, 1961, Soviet fighter-pilot-turned-cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. Flying in a simple spacecraft, the Vostok 1, Gagarin orbited the planet once, during an 108-minute flight. "I see Earth!" he said from space. "It is so beautiful."

Yuri Gagarin

1963: FIRST WOMAN IN SPACE Valentina Tereshkova
In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, aboard Vostok 6. The next woman wouldn't reach orbit until 1982.

Valentina Tereshkov
Timothy Hughes and Rare Newspapers