Today marks the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic Vostok 1 flight. On April 12, 1961, the unknown Soviet Air Force pilot became the first man to orbit the Earth. But there’s a controversy surrounding the flight that’s been lost in moden retellings: to ensure Gagarin’s flight would go down as history’s first manned spaceflight, Soviet space officials issued a false statement about his landing. It’s a bizarre twist, but there was a very brief moment when Gagarin was nearly stripped of the honour of being the first man in space.
It came down to a technicality. The Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the body charged with verifying and keeping track of all aviation and spaceflight records, ruled that a spaceflight would only count if the astronaut or cosmonaut landed with his spacecraft. It was a holdover from aviation where pilots had to land with their aircraft to secure a record. Gagarin ejected from his Vostok and landed by parachute, but the Soviets issued a flight report to the FAI saying otherwise to ensure their man would secure the record. The full story is over at Discovery News, as well as in my latest installment of It Happened in Space.