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Yuri Gagarin: First Man In Space | Chasing the Moon | American Experience | PBS

When Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, the reaction was, if anything, more electric than when Sputnik launched.

Until Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s flight on April 12, 1961, dogs and astrochimps were the typical vanguard space travelers. Sending a human into space — and bringing him back alive — was one of the greatest scientific and engineering achievements to date.

Back on earth, the reaction was, if anything, more charged with excitement than when Sputnik launched. Gagarin’s flight was a huge propaganda opportunity for the Soviet Union. Two days after Gagarin’s return, Kennedy called a meeting in the cabinet room – what can the US space program do? Rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and his team began working on the Saturn rockets with the goal: land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

Learn more about our film, CHASING THE MOON, including where to watch: