Russians have been commemorating Yuri Gagarin’s achievements 60 years after he became the first human blasted into space. The cosmonaut remains one of the most admired figures in Russia to this day and countless murals, statues and art pay tribute to him. On April 12, 1961, the Vostok 1 spacecraft was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome and Gagarin orbited the Earth for 108 minutes before safely landing near Engels in southeastern Russia. The flight was a triumph for the Soviet Union, demonstrating its technological prowess and the bravery of its cosmonauts as well as kicking off the space age. Unfortunately, Gagarin was killed just seven years later when his MIG-15 jet crashed in mysterious circumstances that became the subject of several conspiracy theories.
Gagarin certainly paved the way for hundreds of astronauts and cosmonauts who followed in his footsteps. The International Astronaut Database at The Center for International and Strategic Studies states that over 500 people from nearly 40 countries have traveled into space. The following infographic shows the number of passengers sent into space each year rather than unique astronauts. It illustrates how the number of space travelers peaked in 1985 when 62 humans blasted into orbit. Out of that total 58 were male and just four were female. Even though space exploration has been male dominated, women have been making their presence increasingly felt. In 2017 and 2018, for example, seven men and two women were launched into space in both years while 10 men and two women blasted off in 2020.
Friday saw the three latest space travelers take flight when two Russians and an American lifted off from Kazakhstan in a Soyuz MS-18 before safely docking at the International Space Station. The mission was in honor of Yuri Gagarin and the trio was welcomed onboard the ISS by two Russian cosmonauts, four NASA astronauts and another from Japan. The space industry has changed dramatically in the six decades since Gagarin’s famous orbit and 2020 saw Russia lose its monopoly over manned launches to the ISS with SpaceX successfully taking on the responsibility. It will be interesting to see how the continuing privatization of space travel impacts the number of people heading into orbit and whether the momentum seen in the mid-1980s and 1990s can be regained in the years ahead.
*Click below to enlarge (charted by Statista)
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