Just four years after Sputnik became the first manmade object in orbit, the Soviets succeeded in sending the first human into space in 1961. A 27-year-old test pilot named Yuri Gagarin became a household name across the globe for his unimaginably quick 108 minute journey orbiting the Earth, encased only in a metal shell. TIME’s cover story highlighted the world’s jubilation at the feat — and wariness over the ensuing race for dominance in space.
Vostok was not an unmanned satellite — impersonal, cold, emotionally empty. It had carried an ordinary man soaring across the face of the heavens, and mankind’s imagination had soared with him. Scientists could talk with new assurance about a whole new series of technological achievements that might refashion the world of the future: manned satellites watching and perhaps controlling the weather, guiding ships and airplanes, acting as communication relay stations, providing a drastic change of environment for people with diseases that cannot be cured on earth.