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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 03/98: Gagarin  
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Wednesday, 1 April, 1998, 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
Son of a peasant
Gagarin statue
Gagarin's humble beginnings were heralded by the state
After Laika the dog's epic journey, there were nearly 3,500 applications to the Russian Space Program from would-be cosmonauts around the globe. Most ran along the lines: "You don't have to save me - just send me to space."

Sputnik
The Sputnik satellite had two tiers which fell away from an unmanned capsule
Over 2,000 Russian military pilots were considered. Around 200 survived the first test, but only 20 were selected for intensive training. Of these, only 6 stood a chance of making the first flight.

As training began, two men quickly emerged as front runners - Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov.

Both pilots were subjected to totally unexpected experiences - but physical endurance was not the only factor.

Gagarin
Gagarin was chosen from thousands of hopefuls
The mens' ability to withstand the loneliness of space was tested in a specially-constructed isolation chamber.

Just days before the launch, the odds seemed to be in Titov's favour. But the final selection had as much to do with where the two men came from as what they could do.

It was their social background that played the decisive role. Titov was the son of a teacher, but Gagarin, the son of a worker, was living proof that under communism, even the son of a peasant family could succeed.

From the very beginning, Gagarin's role as a hero was as much about what he represented as what he achieved.

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