Yuri Gagarin anniversary: Hear rare 53-year-old report on first human in space

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NEW YORK (PIX11) – It was about three in the morning when a rapid succession of bells on the news teletype jostled me from my chair.

That many bells, along with the word FLASH signaled a major news development. The Russians had just made history by launching the first human into space.

I was working the overnight shift at radio station WCOL in Columbus, Ohio that Wednesday morning, April 12, 1961. As scant details surfaced on the teletype, I ripped off the copy and alerted the engineer that I wanted to go on the air immediately with a bulletin.

Flowers For Yuri

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin holding a bouquet of flowers. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

The music was interrupted and the recording blared, “This Is A Columbus Newswatch Bulletin.”  Breathlessly I read the news that a man was launched into space and the Russians had done it.

Boy Meets Cosmonaut

Twelve year old Mike Scanlon of Pimlico at a press conference hosted by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, right, at the Soviet trade fair at Earl’s Court, London, 12th July 1961. Scanlon managed to gatecrash the event and shook hands with Gagarin. The previous April, Gagarin had become the first man in space after his flight in Vostok 1. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

At my first radio job, and in a still unpolished voice, I flawlessly read the copy, mispronouncing the cosmonaut’s name, 29-year-old Yuri Gagarin.

He had spent 108 minutes in space, making one orbit at more than 17,000 miles per hour aboard his Vostok 1 space capsule.  He safely returned to Earth, ejecting from the capsule and parachuting into a field, scaring the daylights out of two women who had no idea who he was.

The mission was a historic success for the Russians and a brutal disappointment for the United States, which had hoped to put the first man in space.  That didn’t happen until 10 months later, when John Glenn was launched into space aboard Friendship 7 from the space center at Cape Canaveral.

But I will never forget the morning of April 12, 1961, when the Russians put a man in space and I got to tell the world —  well at least the people of Columbus, Ohio —  about it.


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