In photos: Our journey into space

It was 56 years ago today that Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became known as “the first man in space.”

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

An undated portrait of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the earth in a space ship. This picture was released April 12, 1961.

Our recorded history suggests that mankind has always been interested in space exploration –perhaps because of our curiosity about the unknown. But the journey of humans into space began not so long ago.

It was 56 years ago today that Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became known as “the first man in space.”

On April 12, 1961, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel into space. This event has always been remembered as a historic achievement for the Soviet Union during the Cold War period with the United States. (NASA)

Only 23 days after Gagarin, astronaut Alan Shepard made the first US piloted space flight in the Mercury Freedom 7 spacecraft on May 5, 1961. His mission lasted 15 minutes and 22 seconds. (AP)

In 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, in the Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft. Glenn circled the Earth three times, in a flight lasting 4 hours and 55 minutes. His flight, which showed that the US could compete with the Soviet Union in space, made him a national hero. (NASA)

Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel into space in 1963. After her flight, she served in the Communist Party and represented the USSR at numerous international events. (AP)

In 1964, the Soviet space flight Voskhod 1 became the first to carry more than one crewman into orbit. It was also the first without the use of spacesuits. (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1965, astronaut Edward White made the first US spacewalk on the Gemini 4 mission. He died in 1967, along with two other astronauts, during a prelaunch test for the first manned Apollo mission. (NASA)

In the same year, astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell showed that humans could live in a weightless condition for 14 days. This was a space endurance record that stood until 1970. It was a critical step for the human journey to the moon. (AP)

NASA experienced its first space disaster in 1967, when a fire inside the Apollo Command Module killed three astronauts. They were doing a training exercise for the Apollo 1 mission. (NASA)

Several months later, Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov became the first human to die on a space mission. He was killed when the Soyuz 1 space capsule crashed into the ground after re-entry due to parachute failure. (AFP)

In 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two people to leave their bootprints on the moon. Twelve people have made it down to the lunar surface so far. All of them are Americans. (NASA)