Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin
9 March 1934
|Died||27 March 1968 (aged 34)|
Novosyolovo, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
|Cause of death||Plane crash|
|Resting place||Kremlin Wall Necropolis|
|Rank||Colonel (Polkovnik), Air Forces|
Time in space
|1 hour, 48 minutes|
|Selection||Soviet Air Force Group 1|
|Part of a series of articles on the|
|Soviet space program|
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin[a] (9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968) was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut who became the first human to journey into outer space. Travelling in the Vostok 1 capsule, Gagarin completed one orbit of Earth on 12 April 1961. By achieving this major milestone in the Space Race he became an international celebrity, and was awarded many medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, his nation's highest honour.
Gagarin was born in the Russian village of Klushino, and in his youth was a foundryman at a steel plant in Lyubertsy. He later joined the Soviet Air Forces as a pilot and was stationed at the Luostari Air Base, near the Norwegian border, before his selection for the Soviet space programme with five other cosmonauts. Following his spaceflight, Gagarin became deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre, which was later named after him. He was also elected as a deputy of the Soviet of the Union in 1962 and then to the Soviet of Nationalities, respectively the lower and upper chambers of the Supreme Soviet.
Vostok 1 was Gagarin's only spaceflight, but he served as the backup crew to the Soyuz 1 mission, which ended in a fatal crash, killing his friend and fellow cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. Fearful that a national hero might be killed, Soviet officials banned Gagarin from further spaceflights. After completing training at the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy in February 1968, he was again allowed to fly regular aircraft. Gagarin died five weeks later when the MiG-15 training jet he was piloting with flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin crashed near the town of Kirzhach.
Gagarin was born 9 March 1934 in the village of Klushino, in the Smolensk Oblast of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, near Gzhatsk (renamed Gagarin in 1968 after his death). His parents worked on a collective farm—Aleksey Ivanovich Gagarin as a carpenter and Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina as a dairy farmer.[b] Yuri was the third of four children. His older brother Valentin was born in 1924, and by the time Yuri was born he was already helping with the cattle on the farm. His sister Zoya, born in 1927, helped take care of "Yura" and their youngest brother Boris, born in 1936.
Gagarin's hometown was situated along the path of several invasions of Russia, and had been the site of many wars and conquests from foreign nations. Like millions of Soviet Union citizens, his family suffered during the Nazi occupation during World War II. During the German advance on Moscow, retreating Red Army soldiers seized the collective farm's livestock. The Nazis captured Klushino on 18 October 1941. On their first day in the village, they burned down the school, ending Yuri's first year of education. The Nazis also burned down 27 houses in the village and forced the residents including the Gagarins to work the farms to feed the occupying soldiers. Those who refused were beaten or sent to the concentration camp set up at Gzhatsk.
A German officer took over the Gagarin residence. On the land behind their house, the family was allowed to build a mud hut measuring approximately 3 by 3 metres (10 by 10 ft), where they spent 21 months until the end of the occupation. During this period, Yuri became a saboteur, especially after one of the German soldiers, who the children called "the Devil", tried to hang his younger brother Boris on an apple tree using the boy's scarf. In retaliation, Yuri sabotaged the soldier's work; he poured soil into the tank batteries gathered to be recharged and randomly mixed the different chemical supplies intended for the task. In early 1943, his two older siblings were deported by the Germans to Poland for slave labour. They escaped and were found by Soviet soldiers who conscripted them into helping with the war effort. They did not return home until after the war, in 1945.
The rest of the Gagarin family believed the two older children were dead, and Yuri became ill with "grief and hunger"; he was also beaten for refusing to work for the German forces and spent the remainder of the war at a hospital as a patient and later as an orderly. His mother was hospitalized during the same period, after a German soldier gashed her leg with a scythe. When the Germans were routed out of Klushino on 9 March 1944, Yuri helped the Red Army find mines buried in the roads by the fleeing German army.
In 1946, the family moved to Gzhatsk, where Gagarin continued his education. Yuri and Boris were enrolled at a crude school built in the town and run by a young woman who volunteered to be the teacher. They learned to read using a discarded Russian military manual. A former Russian airman later joined the school to teach math and science, Yuri's favourite subjects. Yuri was also part of a group of children that built model airplanes. He was fascinated with flying crafts from a young age and his interest in airplanes was energized after a Yakovlev fighter plane crash landed in Klushino during the war.
In 1950, aged 16, Gagarin began an apprenticeship as a foundryman at a steel plant in Lyubertsy, near Moscow, and enrolled at a local "young workers" school for seventh-grade evening classes. After graduating in 1951 from both the seventh grade and the vocational school with honours in mouldmaking and foundry work, he was selected for further training at the Industrial Technical School in Saratov, where he studied tractors. While in Saratov, Gagarin volunteered at a local flying club for weekend training as a Soviet air cadet, where he trained to fly a biplane, and later a Yakovlev Yak-18. He earned extra money as a part-time dock labourer on the Volga River.
In 1955, Gagarin was accepted to the First Chkalovsky Higher Air Force Pilots School in Orenburg. He initially began training on the Yak-18 already familiar to him and later graduated to training on the MiG-15 in February 1956. Gagarin twice struggled to land the two-seater trainer aircraft, and risked dismissal from pilot training. However, the commander of the regiment decided to give him another chance at landing. Gagarin's flight instructor gave him a cushion to sit on, which improved his view from the cockpit, and he landed successfully. Having completed his evaluation in a trainer aircraft, Gagarin began flying solo in 1957.
On 5 November 1957, Gagarin was commissioned a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Forces having accumulated 166 hours and 47 minutes of flight time. He graduated from flight school the next day and was posted to the Luostari Air Base close to the Norwegian border in Murmansk Oblast for a two-year assignment with the Northern Fleet. On 7 July 1959, he was rated Military Pilot 3rd Class. After expressing interest in space exploration following the launch of Luna 3 on 6 October 1959, his recommendation to the Soviet space programme was endorsed and forward by Lieutenant Colonel Babushkin. By this point, he had accumulated 265 hours of flight time. Gagarin was promoted to the rank of senior lieutenant on 6 November 1959, three weeks after he was interviewed by a medical commission for qualification to the space programme.
See also: Vostok programme
Gagarin's selection for the Vostok programme was overseen by the Central Flight Medical Commission led by Major General Konstantin Fyodorovich Borodin of the Soviet Army Medical Service. He underwent physical and psychological testing conducted at Central Aviation Scientific-Research Hospital, in Moscow, commanded by Colonel A.S. Usanov, a member of the commission. The commission also included Colonel Yevgeniy Anatoliyevich Karpov, who later commanded the training centre, Colonel Vladimir Ivanovich Yazdovskiy, the head physician for Gagarin's flight, and Major-General Aleksandr Nikolayevich Babiychuk, a physician flag officer on the Soviet Air Force General Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Air Force. The commission limited their selection to pilots between 25 and 30 years old. The chief engineer of the programme Sergei Korolev also specified that candidates, to fit in the limited space in the Vostok capsule, should weigh less than 72 kg (159 lb) and be no taller than 1.70 metres (5 ft 7 in); Gagarin was 1.57 metres (5 ft 2 in) tall.
From a pool of 154 qualified pilots short-listed by their Air Force units, the military physicians chose 29 cosmonaut candidates, of which 20 were approved by the Credential Committee of the Soviet government. The first twelve including Gagarin were approved on 7 March 1960 and eight more were added in a series of subsequent orders issued until June.[c] Gagarin began training at the Khodynka Airfield in downtown Moscow on 15 March 1960. The training regimen involved vigorous and repetitive physical exercises which Alexei Leonov, a member of the initial group of twelve, described as akin to training for the Olympic Games. In April 1960, they began parachute training in Saratov Oblast and each completed about 40 to 50 jumps from both low and high altitude, over both land and water.
Gagarin was a candidate favoured by his peers; when they were asked to vote anonymously for a candidate besides themselves they would like to be the first to fly, all but three chose Gagarin. One of these candidates, Yevgeny Khrunov, believed that Gagarin was very focused and was demanding of himself and others when necessary. On 30 May 1960, Gagarin was further selected for an accelerated training group, known as the Vanguard Six or Sochi Six,[d] from which the first cosmonauts of the Vostok programme would be chosen. The other members of the group were Anatoly Kartashov, Andriyan Nikolayev, Pavel Popovich, Gherman Titov, and Valentin Varlamov. However, Kartashov and Varlamov were injured and replaced by Khrunov and Grigory Nelyubov.
As several of the candidates selected for the programme including Gagarin did not have higher education degrees, they were enrolled into a correspondence course programme at the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy. Gagarin enrolled in the programme in September 1960 and did not earn his specialist diploma until early 1968. Gagarin was also subjected to experiments that were designed to test physical and psychological endurance including oxygen starvation tests in which the cosmonauts were locked in an isolation chamber and the air slowly pumped out. He also trained for the upcoming flight by experiencing g-forces in a centrifuge. Psychological tests included placing the candidates in an anechoic chamber in complete isolation; Gagarin was in the chamber on 26 July – 5 August. In August 1960, a Soviet Air Force doctor evaluated his personality as follows:
Modest; embarrasses when his humor gets a little too racy; high degree of intellectual development evident in Yuriy; fantastic memory; distinguishes himself from his colleagues by his sharp and far-ranging sense of attention to his surroundings; a well-developed imagination; quick reactions; persevering, prepares himself painstakingly for his activities and training exercises, handles celestial mechanics and mathematical formulae with ease as well as excels in higher mathematics; does not feel constrained when he has to defend his point of view if he considers himself right; appears that he understands life better than a lot of his friends.
The Vanguard Six were given the title of pilot-cosmonaut in January 1961 and entered a two-day examination conducted by a special interdepartmental commission led by Lieutenant-General Nikolai Kamanin, the overseer of the Vostok programme. The commission was tasked with ranking the candidates based on their mission readiness for the first human Vostok mission. On 17 January, they were tested in a simulator at the M. M. Gromov Flight-Research Institute on a full-size mockup of the Vostok capsule. Gagarin, Nikolayev, Popovich, and Titov all received excellent marks on the first day of testing in which they were required to describe the various phases of the mission followed by questions from the commission. On the second day, they were given a written examination following which the special commission ranked Gagarin as the best candidate for the first mission. He and the next two highest-ranked cosmonauts, Titov and Nelyubov, were sent to Tyuratam for final preparations. Gagarin and Titov were selected to train in the flight-ready spacecraft on 7 April. Historian Asif Azam Siddiqi writes of the final selection:
In the end, at the State Commission meeting on April 8, Kamanin stood up and formally nominated Gagarin as the primary pilot and Titov as his backup. Without much discussion, the commission approved the proposal and moved on to other last-minute logistical issues. It was assumed that in the event Gagarin developed health problems prior to liftoff, Titov would take his place, with Nelyubov acting as his backup.
Main article: Vostok 1
On 12 April 1961, at 6:07 am UTC, the Vostok 3KA-3 (Vostok 1) spacecraft was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Aboard was Gagarin, the first human to travel into space, using the call sign Kedr (Кедр, Siberian pine or cedar). The radio communication between the launch control room and Gagarin included the following dialogue at the moment of rocket launch:
Korolev: Preliminary stage ... intermediate... main... LIFT-OFF! We wish you a good flight. Everything's all right.
Gagarin: Off we go! Goodbye, until [we meet] soon, dear friends.
Gagarin's farewell to Korolev using the informal phrase Poyekhali! (Поехали!, 'Off we go!')[e] later became a popular expression in the Eastern Bloc that was used to refer to the beginning of the Space Age. The five first-stage engines fired until the first separation event, when the four side-boosters fell away, leaving the core engine. The core stage then separated while the rocket was in a suborbital trajectory, and the upper stage carried it to orbit. Once the upper stage finished firing, it separated from the spacecraft, which orbited for 108 minutes before returning to Earth in Kazakhstan. Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth.
"The feeling of weightlessness was somewhat unfamiliar compared with Earth conditions. Here, you feel as if you were hanging in a horizontal position in straps. You feel as if you are suspended", Gagarin wrote in his post-flight report. He also wrote in his autobiography released the same year that he sang the tune "The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows" ("Родина слышит, Родина знает") during re-entry. Gagarin was recognised as a qualified Military Pilot 1st Class and promoted to the rank of major in a special order given during his flight.
At about 7,000 metres (23,000 ft), Gagarin ejected from the descending capsule as planned and landed using a parachute. There were concerns Gagarin's orbital spaceflight records for duration, altitude and lifted mass would not be recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the world governing body for setting standards and keeping records in the field, which at the time required that the pilot land with the craft. Gagarin and Soviet officials initially refused to admit that he had not landed with his spacecraft, an omission which became apparent after Titov's flight on Vostok 2 four months later. Gagarin's spaceflight records were nonetheless certified and reaffirmed by the FAI, which revised its rules, and acknowledged that the crucial steps of the safe launch, orbit, and return of the pilot had been accomplished. Gagarin is internationally recognised as the first human in space and first to orbit the Earth.
Gagarin's flight was a triumph for the Soviet space programme and he became a national hero of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, as well as a worldwide celebrity. Newspapers around the globe published his biography and details of his flight. He was escorted in a long motorcade of high-ranking officials through the streets of Moscow to the Kremlin where, in a lavish ceremony, Nikita Khrushchev awarded him the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Other cities in the Soviet Union also held mass demonstrations, the scale of which were second only to the World War II Victory Parades.
Gagarin gained a reputation as an adept public figure and was noted for his charismatic smile. On 15 April 1961, accompanied by officials from the Soviet Academy of Sciences, he answered questions at a press conference in Moscow reportedly attended by 1,000 reporters. Gagarin visited the United Kingdom three months after the Vostok 1 mission, going to London and Manchester. While in Manchester, despite heavy rain, he refused an umbrella, insisted that the roof of the convertible car he was riding in remain open, and stood so the cheering crowds could see him. Gagarin toured widely abroad, accepting the invitation of about 30 countries in the years following his flight. In just the first four months, he also went to Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, and Iceland. Because of his popularity, US president John F. Kennedy barred Gagarin from visiting the United States.
In 1962, Gagarin began serving as a deputy to the Soviet of the Union, and was elected to the Central Committee of the Young Communist League. He later returned to Star City, the cosmonaut facility, where he spent several years working on designs for a reusable spacecraft. He became a lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Forces on 12 June 1962, and received the rank of colonel on 6 November 1963. On 20 December, Gagarin became Deputy Training Director of the cosmonaut training facility. Soviet officials, including Kamanin, tried to keep Gagarin away from any flights, being worried about losing their hero in an accident noting that he was "too dear to mankind to risk his life for the sake of an ordinary space flight". Kamanin was also concerned by Gagarin's drinking and believed the sudden rise to fame had taken its toll on the cosmonaut. While acquaintances say Gagarin had been a "sensible drinker", his touring schedule placed him in social situations in which he was increasingly expected to drink alcohol.
Two years later, he was re-elected as a deputy of the Soviet Union but this time to the Soviet of Nationalities, the upper chamber of legislature. The following year, he began to re-qualify as a fighter pilot and was backup pilot for his friend Vladimir Komarov on the Soyuz 1 flight after five years without piloting duty. Kamanin had opposed Gagarin's reassignment to cosmonaut training; he had gained weight and his flying skills had deteriorated. Despite this, he remained a strong contender for Soyuz 1 until he was replaced by Komarov in April 1966 and reassigned to Soyuz 3.
The Soyuz 1 launch was rushed due to implicit political pressures and despite Gagarin's protests that additional safety precautions were necessary. Gagarin accompanied Komarov to the rocket before launch and relayed instructions to Komarov from ground control following multiple system failures aboard the spacecraft. Despite their best efforts, Soyuz 1 crash landed after its parachutes failed to open, killing Komarov instantly. After the Soyuz 1 crash, Gagarin was permanently banned from training for and participating in further spaceflights. He was also grounded from flying aircraft solo, a demotion he worked hard to lift. He was temporarily relieved of duties to focus on academics with the promise that he would be able to resume flight training. On 17 February 1968, Gagarin successfully defended his aerospace engineering thesis on the subject of spaceplane aerodynamic configuration and graduated cum laude from the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy.
In 1957, while a cadet in flight school, Gagarin met Valentina Goryacheva at the May Day celebrations at the Red Square in Moscow. She was a medical technician who had graduated from Orenburg Medical School. They were married on 7 November of the same year, the same day Gagarin graduated from his flight school, and they had two daughters. Yelena Yurievna Gagarina, born 1959, is an art historian who has worked as the director general of the Moscow Kremlin Museums since 2001; and Galina Yurievna Gagarina, born 1961, is a professor of economics and the department chair at Plekhanov Russian University of Economics in Moscow. Following his rise to fame, at a Black Sea resort in September 1961, he was reportedly caught by his wife during a liaison with a nurse who had aided him after a boating incident. He attempted to escape through a window and jumped off a second floor balcony. The resulting injury left a permanent scar above his left eyebrow.
In his youth Gagarin was a keen sportsman and played ice hockey as a goalkeeper. He was also a basketball fan and coached the Saratov Industrial Technical School team, as well as being a referee.
Some sources have said that Gagarin commented during his space flight, "I don't see any God up here," though no such words appear in the verbatim record of his conversations with Earth stations during the spaceflight. In a 2006 interview, Gagarin's friend Colonel Valentin Petrov stated that Gagarin never said these words and that the quote originated from Khrushchev's speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU about the state's anti-religion campaign, saying "Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any god there". Petrov also said Gagarin had been baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church as a child, and a 2011 Foma magazine article quoted the rector of the Orthodox Church in Star City saying, "Gagarin baptized his elder daughter Yelena shortly before his space flight; and his family used to celebrate Christmas and Easter and keep icons in the house".
Main article: Death of Yuri Gagarin
On 27 March 1968, while on a routine training flight from Chkalovsky Air Base, Gagarin and flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin died when their MiG-15UTI crashed near the town of Kirzhach. The bodies of Gagarin and Seryogin were cremated and their ashes interred in the walls of the Kremlin. Wrapped in secrecy, the cause of the crash that killed Gagarin is uncertain and became the subject of several theories, including several conspiracy theories. At least three investigations into the crash were conducted separately by the Air Force, official government commissions, and the KGB. According to a biography of Gagarin by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin, the KGB worked "not just alongside the Air Force and the official commission members but against them."
The KGB's report, declassified in March 2003, dismissed various conspiracy theories and instead indicated the actions of airbase personnel contributed to the crash. The report states that an air-traffic controller provided Gagarin with outdated weather information and that by the time of his flight, conditions had deteriorated significantly. Ground crew also left external fuel tanks attached to the aircraft. Gagarin's planned flight activities needed clear weather and no outboard tanks. The investigation concluded Gagarin's aircraft entered a spin, either due to a bird strike or because of a sudden move to avoid another aircraft. Because of the out-of-date weather report, the crew believed their altitude was higher than it was and could not react properly to bring the MiG-15 out of its spin. Another theory, advanced in 2005 by the original crash investigator, hypothesizes that a cabin air vent was accidentally left open by the crew or the previous pilot, leading to oxygen deprivation and leaving the crew incapable of controlling the aircraft. A similar theory, published in Air & Space magazine, is that the crew detected the open vent and followed procedure by executing a rapid dive to a lower altitude. This dive caused them to lose consciousness and crash.
On 12 April 2007, the Kremlin vetoed a new investigation into the death of Gagarin. Government officials said they saw no reason to begin a new investigation. In April 2011, documents from a 1968 commission set up by the Central Committee of the Communist Party to investigate the accident were declassified. The documents revealed that the commission's original conclusion was that Gagarin or Seryogin had manoeuvred sharply, either to avoid a weather balloon or to avoid "entry into the upper limit of the first layer of cloud cover", leading the jet into a "super-critical flight regime and to its stalling in complex meteorological conditions".
Alexei Leonov, who was also a member of a state commission established to investigate Gagarin's death, was conducting parachute training sessions that day and heard "two loud booms in the distance". He believes that a Sukhoi Su-15 was flying below its minimum altitude and, "without realizing it because of the terrible weather conditions, he passed within 10 or 20 meters (33 or 66 ft) of Yuri and Seregin's plane while breaking the sound barrier". The resulting turbulence would have sent the MiG-15UTI into an uncontrolled spin. Leonov said the first boom he heard was that of the jet breaking the sound barrier and the second was Gagarin's plane crashing.
On 14 April 1961, Gagarin was honoured with a 12-mile (19 km) parade attended by millions of people that concluded at the Red Square. After a short speech, he was bestowed the Hero of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin, Merited Master of Sports of the Soviet Union and the first Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR. On 15 April, the Soviet Academy of Sciences awarded him with the Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Gold Medal, named after the Russian pioneer of space aeronautics. Gagarin had also been awarded four Soviet commemorative medals over the course of his career.
He was honoured as a Hero of Socialist Labor from Czechoslovakia on 29 April 1961, and Hero of Socialist Labor (Bulgaria, including the Order of Georgi Dimitrov) the same year. On the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban Revolution (26 July), President Osvaldo Dorticos of Cuba presented him with the first Commander of the Order of Playa Girón, a newly created medal.
Gagarin was also awarded the 1960 Gold Air Medal and the 1961 De la Vaulx Medal from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in Switzerland. He received numerous awards from other nations that year, including the Star of the Republic of Indonesia (2nd Class), the Order of the Cross of Grunwald (1st Degree) in Poland, the Order of the Flag of the Republic of Hungary, the Hero of Labor award from Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Italian Columbus Day Medal, and a Gold Medal from the British Interplanetary Society. President Jânio Quadros of Brazil decorated Gagarin on 2 August 1961 with the Order of Aeronautical Merit, Commander grade. During a tour of Egypt in late January 1962, Gagarin received the Order of the Nile and the golden keys to the gates of Cairo. On 22 October 1963, Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova were honoured with the Order of Karl Marx from the German Democratic Republic.
The date of Gagarin's space flight, 12 April, has been commemorated. Since 1962, it has been celebrated in the USSR and most of its former territories as Cosmonautics Day. Since 2000, Yuri's Night, an international celebration, is held annually to commemorate milestones in space exploration. In 2011, it was declared the International Day of Human Space Flight by the United Nations.
A number of buildings and locations have been named for Gagarin. The Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City was named on 30 April 1968. The launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome from which Sputnik 1 and Vostok 1 were launched is now known as Gagarin's Start. Gagarin Raion in Sevastopol was named after him during the period of the Soviet Union. The Russian Air Force Academy was renamed the Gagarin Air Force Academy in 1968. The town of Gzhatsk where he lived in Smolensk Oblast was renamed Gagarin after his death in 1968, and has since become home to numerous museums and monuments to him. A street in Warsaw, Poland, is called Yuri Gagarin Street. The town of Gagarin, Armenia was renamed in his honour in 1961.
Gagarin has been honoured on the Moon by astronauts and astronomers. During the American space programme's Apollo 11 mission in 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left a memorial satchel containing medals commemorating Gagarin and Komarov on the Moon's surface. In 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts David Scott and James Irwin left the small Fallen Astronaut sculpture at their landing site as a memorial to the American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who died in the Space Race; the names on its plaque included Yuri Gagarin and 14 others. In 1970, a 262 km (163 mi) wide crater on the far side was named after him. Gagarin was inducted as a member of the 1976 inaugural class of the International Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico.
Gagarin is memorialised in music; a cycle of Soviet patriotic songs titled The Constellation Gagarin (Созвездье Гагарина, Sozvezdie Gagarina) was written by Aleksandra Pakhmutova and Nikolai Dobronravov in 1970–1971. The most famous of these songs refers to Gagarin's poyekhali!: in the lyrics, "He said 'let's go!' He waved his hand". He was the inspiration for the pieces "Hey Gagarin" by Jean-Michel Jarre on Métamorphoses, "Gagarin" by Public Service Broadcasting, and "Gagarin, I loved you" by Undervud.
Vessels have been named for Gagarin; Soviet tracking ship Kosmonavt Yuriy Gagarin was built in 1971 and the Armenian airline Armavia named their first Sukhoi Superjet 100 in his honour in 2011.
Two commemorative coins were issued in the Soviet Union to honour the 20th and 30th anniversaries of his flight: a one-ruble coin in copper-nickel (1981) and a three-ruble coin in silver (1991). In 2001, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, a series of four coins bearing his likeness was issued in Russia; it consisted of a two-ruble coin in copper-nickel, a three-ruble coin in silver, a ten-ruble coin in brass-copper and nickel, and a 100-ruble coin in silver. In 2011, Russia issued a 1,000-ruble coin in gold and a three-ruble coin in silver to mark the 50th anniversary of his flight.
In 2008, the Kontinental Hockey League named their championship trophy the Gagarin Cup. In a 2010 Space Foundation survey, Gagarin was ranked as the sixth-most-popular space hero, tied with the fictional character James T. Kirk from Star Trek. A Russian docudrama titled Gagarin: First in Space was released in 2013. Previous attempts at portraying Gagarin were disallowed; his family took legal action over his portrayal in a fictional drama and vetoed a musical.
There are statues of Gagarin and monuments to him located in the town named after him as well as in Orenburg, Cheboksary, Irkutsk, Izhevsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and Yoshkar-Ola in Russia, as well as in Nicosia, Cyprus, Druzhkivka, Ukraine, Karaganda, Kazakhstan, and Tiraspol, Moldova. On 4 June 1980, Monument to Yuri Gagarin in Gagarin Square, Leninsky Avenue, Moscow, was opened. The monument is mounted to a 38 m (125 ft) tall pedestal and is constructed of titanium. Beside the column is a replica of the descent module used during his spaceflight.
In 2011, a statue of Gagarin was unveiled at Admiralty Arch in The Mall in London, opposite the permanent sculpture of James Cook. It is a copy of the statue outside Gagarin's former school in Lyubertsy. In 2013, the statue was moved to a permanent location outside the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.
In 2012, a statue was unveiled at the site of NASA's original spaceflight headquarters on South Wayside Drive in Houston. The sculpture was completed in 2011 by Leonov, who is also an artist, and was a gift to Houston commissioned by various Russian organisations. Houston Mayor Annise Parker, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were present for the dedication. The Russian Federation presented a bust of Gagarin to several cities in India including one that was unveiled at the Birla Planetarium in Kolkata in February 2012.
In April 2018, a bust of Gagarin erected on the street in Belgrade, Serbia, that bears his name was removed, after less than a week. A new work was commissioned following the outcry over the disproportionately small size of its head which locals said was an "insult" to Gagarin. Belgrade City Manager Goran Vesic stated that neither the city, the Serbian Ministry of Culture, nor the foundation that financed it had prior knowledge of the design.
In August 2019, the Italian artist Jorit painted Gagarin's face on the facade of a twenty-story building in the district of Odintsovo, Russia. The mural is the largest portrait of Gagarin in the world.
In March 2021, a statue of Gagarin was unveiled at Mataram Park (Taman Mataram) in Jakarta, Indonesia in celebration of the 70th anniversary of Indonesia–Russia diplomatic relations as well as the 60th anniversary of the first human space flight. The statue, sculpted by Russian artist A.D. Leonov and presented by Russian embassy in Jakarta, is considered as "a sign of strengthening relations" between Moscow and Jakarta, which have been sister cities since 2006.
The 50th anniversary of Gagarin's journey into space was marked in 2011 by tributes around the world. A documentary film titled First Orbit was shot from the International Space Station, combining sound recordings from the original flight with footage of the route taken by Gagarin. The Russian, American, and Italian crew of Expedition 27 aboard the ISS sent a special video message to wish the people of the world a "Happy Yuri's Night", wearing shirts with an image of Gagarin.
The Central Bank of the Russian Federation released gold and silver coins to commemorate the anniversary. The Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft was named Gagarin with the launch in April 2011 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his mission.