The first person in space was Soviet cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin (1934–1968), who orbited the Earth in the spaceship Vostok 1, launched April 12, 1961. The flight lasted one hour and 48 minutes. The achievement made Gagarin an international hero. U.S. president John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) announced later that year, on November 25, that the United States would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. The first step toward reaching that goal was made by putting the first American into space: On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard Jr. (1923–1998) piloted the first U.S. spaceflight, aboard the Freedom 7. The suborbital flight reached an altitude of 116.5 miles. Just more than nine months later, the United States put a man into orbit: On February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn Jr. (1921-) orbited Earth three times in the spaceship Friendship 7.
A model of Sputnik 1 on display at the Prague, Czechoslovakia, exhibition.The Sputnik 1 space capsule was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, starting the “space race” with the United States.