First Steps to Space: Yuri Gagarin’s Military Service Archive Declassified


The newly declassified archival documents were released just in time for Cosmonautics Day, celebrating cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historic April 12, 1961 flight aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft.

The archival release includes over a dozen pages of never-before-seen material, starting with an official accounting of Gagarin’s military postings and his promotion through the ranks of the Soviet Air Force, from lieutenant in 1957 following his completion of the Chkalov Air Force Pilot’s School in Orenburg, to senior lieutenant in 1959, to lieutenant-colonel in 1962 and finally colonel in 1963. The latter are accompanied by the relevant orders to confer the cosmonaut the new ranks.

An interesting document called ‘Order of the Commander of the 769th Fighter Regiment From January 16, 1960’ by Lieutenant Colonels Babushkin and Ryabov contains recommendations of “first rate officers, outstanding students in military and political training, excellent crewmen, groups and units.” 25 year old Senior Lieutenant Gagarin is found in a shortlist of personnel from 3-rd Squadron under Major Reshetov. His name appears again in a ‘list of gratitude’ “For excellent disposition in the performance of official duties and strong discipline.”

A document from July 15, 1960 to K.N. Rudnev, the Chairman of the State Committee on Defense Technology gives insight into the bureaucratic process by which personnel were approved…

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