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Wednesday, April 1, 1998 Published at 07:01 GMT 08:01 UK

Special Report

Back to Earth
image: [ Gagarin returned to a hero's welcome ]
Gagarin returned to a hero's welcome

The odds for Gagarin surviving the launch had been calculated at just 50-50. So far so good, but the odds on his returning were not so favourable.

As his ship re-entered the earth's atmosphere, Gagarin encountered a serious problem. His capsule failed to separate properly from its carrier rocket and was spinning out of control.

[ image: Gagarin landed by parachute]
Gagarin landed by parachute
Disorientated, Gagarin failed to follow instructions from ground control. Though told not to eject too early, he did, and from an undetermined height.

Deep in the countryside, tractor driver Jakob Lashenko was working in the fields when he was astonished to see a figure descending from the sky.

A few miles away, two schoolgirls rushed outside when Gagarin's capsule fell to Earth.

"It was a huge ball, about two or three metres high. It fell, then it bounced and then it fell again. There was a huge hole where it hit first time, " said one.

The details of Gagarin's parachute landing had to be concealed. The flight could qualify as a world record only if the pilot stayed inside the capsule all the way to touchdown.

But there was nothing false about the elation felt in Moscow two days later.


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