Home Today's Reason to Drink April 12: The First Man in Space

April 12: The First Man in Space

On this day in 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin rocketed into the firmament and stayed there for 108 minutes, earning the title of First Man in Space. After his flight, Yuri toured the world as an international celebrity, and was forced, as it were, to drink toasts with a vast array of heads of state, royalty, and celebrities of every stripe. His Soviet handlers were initially worried he would get drunk and say the wrong thing, but they needn’t have worried: Yuri was a helluva drinker. It was only after his celebrity began to fade that he started mixing his prodigious drinking with impromptu daredevil acrobatics, like jumping off hotel balconies and other high objects. He found the public-relations business dull. He needed excitement. So the state let him get back in the cockpit and he test-piloted fighter jets until a slightly-overcast Spring morning in 1968, when Yuri rode a MIG fighter directly into the unforgiving steppes of Kirzhach, Russia. Some say he was drunk during that final flight, that he was drunk during a lot of his flights, others say his jet was intentionally sabotaged because he was getting a little mouthy during his off-duty drinking sessions. Either way, raise a vodka to Yuri, the first man, and drunkard, in space.