* The first monkey sent into space was a squirrel monkey named Gordo, in December 1958.
* The first artificial satellite was launched from Baikonur on 4 October, 1957. Baikonur is in Kazakhstan, which was formerly a part of the USSR. Today, Kazakhstan is an independent country, but Baikonur continues to be the launch base of all Russian manned space missions.
* A monument to the Russian space programme can be seen in Moscow. It is a metal structure, soaring to a height of 100 metres, with a rocket at the top.
* Astronauts carry passports when they go on flights. A passport is necessary because in an emergency, the astronaut may have to land in a country other than that of the launch.
* In the final stage of selection for the Vostok 1 flight, the Soviet Union had to choose between two cosmonauts: Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov. Titov was more qualified in some ways and was considered the more capable of the two, yet it was Gagarin who was finally selected for the first orbital flight.
It is believed that Gagarin’s engaging smile, and his peasant background tilted the scales in his favour. The Soviets felt he could be projected as a living testimonial of the success of communism.
Gagarin died in an air accident seven years later. A year earlier, in 1967, a fire aboard a spacecraft had claimed the life of Virgil Grissom, the second American to go into space.