From an article on the Smithsonian magazine: On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. And given the risks inherent to early spaceflight, he certainly deserves his place in history. But what about the man who designed the rocket that got Gagarin there? His name was Sergei Korolev, and his influence on the Soviet space program stretched much farther than Gagarin’s 108 minutes of fame — the time it took to make a single orbit of Earth. The flight of Vostok 1, Gagarin’s craft, “was a defining moment of the 20th century and opened up the prospect of interplanetary travel for our species,” writes Robin McKie for The Guardian. For Gagarin, it was the moment that made him a famous figurehead for the Soviet Union. As Gagarin toured the globe, the space program’s chief designer remained at home and unknown. That Sergei Korolev ran the Soviet Union’s rocket program wasn’t revealed until after his death. “Gagarin became the face of Soviet space supremacy,” McKie writes, “while Korolev was the brains. The pair made a potent team and their success brought fame to one and immense power to the other. Neither lived long enough to enjoy those rewards, however.”
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