The images of the first man in space in his cosmonaut suit have gone around the whole world. However, we still hardly know what this legendary man was like in real life.
After April 12, 1961, Yury Gagarin became a true hero and superstar. Everyone in the Soviet Union was proud of him and people were happy to see him even just from afar.
Gagarin was born into a poor family in Russia's countryside. He wasn't a very tall man, was very humble and could charm anyone with his iconic smile. Contemporaries recall that he was very easy going. He wasn't ready for the enormous fame that he suddenly found. And he remained a shy and quiet person, always decent and honest and what a true Soviet man and Soviet officer should have been.
Gagarin posing in 1965
Gagarin posing in his car, 1961
Going through morning exercises, 1961
Flexing for the cameras, 1963
Fishin in his native village, 1961
Gagarin waterskiing on holidays, 1965
Gagarin tenderly loved his wife Valentina (who passed away in March 2020) and his two daughters: Elena (which is now director of Moscow Kremlin Museums) and Galina (she became professor of economics).
Gagarin with daughter Galina on holidays, 1966
Friends and colleagues recalled that Gagarin liked to have fun and laugh. Engineer Yevgeny Shilnikov working with Gagarin recalled that the first man in space had a favorite anecdote that he liked to tell in company.
"A sparrow flies in the skies and suddenly a rocket flies towards him at a very high speed. The sparrow asks, 'Why are you flying that fast?' And the rocket replies: "If someone burns your ass, you will fly even faster!'"
Gagarin in a carnival costume, 1965
Cosmonauts Yury Gagarin (L) and Alexei Leonov in costumes during Neptune Day celebrations, 1965