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Wednesday, 1 April, 1998, 08:00 GMT 09:00 UK
The space race begins
Worldview
Soviet scientists' goal was give Gagarin this view
The late 1950s was a time of great optimism for the whole Soviet Union. Stalin had died in 1953 and the new leader, Nikita Kruschev, ushered in a period of unprecedented openness.

Gagarin
In the Vostok 1 spaceship, Gagarin made a single orbit of the earth
The Soviets also hoped to make an impact on the world stage.

When they declared their intention of sending a satellite into space in 1956, nobody believed it could be done, especially the Americans.

But a secret team of rocket scientists headed by the legendary Russian rocket designer, Sergei Korolev, had already been working on the Sputnik project for over a year.

Sergei Korolev
Pioneering Russian rocket scientist, Sergei Korolev
When the first Sputnik satellite overcame terrestrial gravity and flew into space in October 1957, the Soviet leadership planned an even more spectacular mission to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Glorious October Revolution.

One suggestion was to send up a satellite that would broadcast the Communist Internationale anthem. But Korolev had another idea.

In November 1957, he successfully launched Laika the dog into orbit. She was never to return, but Korolev had proved that it was possible to send living things into space.

The whole world could see where Korolev was leading. The race to put a man into space had begun.

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