While studying flyng, he learned parachuting, a skill that would later save his life when it was time for him to eject from the Vostok 1 capsule upon it's re-entry. On his first jump, he clung to the fuselage as the other young men and women waited their turn with his teacher shouting, "Don't dither, Yuri, the girls are watching!" Soon after he took his first ride in a Yak-18 fighter plane. "That first flight filled me with pride and gave meaning to my whole life." He would spend the summer flying and living in a tent next to an airfield outside Moscow.


Yuri prepares to parachute
Yuri trains in parachuting, a skill
that would later save his life when
it was time to eject from Vostok 1.

Yuri the pilot
He cut a fine figure as a pilot.


At the advice of Martyanov he joined the Soviet Air Force and went to Orenburg Aviation School where he learned to fly MIGs. While at Orenburg attending a dance held at the school, he met the lovely and shy Valentina Ivanovna Goryacheva.


Valya, a nursing student, was the youngest of six children. She would comment to her mother, "He has sharpened his teeth on the granite of science. He's been going to school all his life." Together they enjoyed reading and frequenting the theater and especially discussing what they had seen and read. They shared the news of Sputnik's historical flight and of Nikita Khrushchev's announcement of sending a man to space as soon as conditions were right. From moment he learned about Sputnik, Gagarin secretly knew he would join the space program and even began sketching his ideas for spaceships. He had studied Tsiolkovsky's theories on space flight.


Yuri & Valya
Yuri and Valya were much in love
and married the day he graduated.
  Lieutenant Gagarin
In 1957 Lieutenant Gagarin
graduated with top honors from
Orenburg Aviation School.
In November 1957, at the age of 23, Yuri graduated with top-ranking honors from Orenburg and became a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force. It was also on this day in his new officer's greatcoat that he married his beautiful Valya. Later, cosmonaut team leader Karpov would say, "Yuri felt calm, confident, cheerful, and optimistic. Valya is wonderful! In helping Yuri get ready to leave, and in seeing him off, she displayed extraordinary self-control and courage "like a genuine cosmonaut's wife."


His first post as a fighter pilot was at a Soviet Air Force base in the arctic, where his first flights were made in the light of the aurora borealis. While he was stationed there, the Soviets launched Luna-3, which photographed the far side of the moon for the first time. It was 1959.

"I mustn't delay any longer. A manned space flight will be made before long!"


Gagarin, daughter Lenochka, Valya
Yuri enjoyed being a father.
He was gregarious and loving.

Lenochka balances in her father's hand.
Yuri clowns around with
Lenochka to Valya's delight.


He submitted his request to be considered for cosmonaut training, and, of course he was approved. He and Valya and their beautiful daughter Lenochka moved to Star Town built just for the cosmonauts outside Moscow. .

Photos: The Russian State Archive of Scientific & Technical Documents.