April the 12th is one of those days that is famous in the history of Space Exploration. It was on the 12th April 1961 that Yuri Gargarin made his one and only flight in a rocket to become the first man to ever leave earth to travel in outer space. The rocket, Vostok 1, was also the first spaceship to orbit the earth.
At 6:07 GMT the Baikonur Cosmodrome witnessed the roar of the rocket engines as the Vostok 1 spacecraft launched from the Russian space centre. Ten minutes at 6:17 later the main engine shuts down and Vostok 1 with Yuri Gargarin on board achieves earth orbit.
The mission lasted 108 minutes with the capsule landing about 10 minutes ahead of Yuri as the first man in space had ejected at 23,000 feet and returned to Earth by parachute.
Fast forward 20 years to April 12 1981 and sitting atop the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39 is the first ever Space Shuttle waiting to launch. Commander John Young and Pilot Richard Truly took off from LC-39A for the first flight of the revolutionary Space Shuttle, a space vehicle that took off like a rocket, but returned to earth like a plane.
Space Shuttle Columbia (code named OV-102) was the orbiter for this test flight which lasted 2 days 6 hours and 20 minutes. During the flight the Columbia orbited the Earth 37 times, before finally landing on runway 23 at Edwards Air Force Base in California.