The Soviet Union beat the USA in the race to get the first man into space.
At just after 0700BST, Major Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin was fired from the Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan, Soviet central Asia, in the space craft Vostok (East).
Major Gagarin orbited the Earth for 108 minutes travelling at more than 17,000 miles per hour (27,000 kilometres per hour) before landing at an undisclosed location. Gagarin’s safe return laid to rest worries that space flight would be fatal for humans.
It was the culmination of two years of highly secretive training for Yuri Gagarin, 27, who beat off thousands of other hopefuls.
The previously obscure army major has returned to earth a national hero.