| "As first in the world, the Soviet spaceship Vostok, with a man on board, accomplished the flight around the Earth, and safely landed on the sacred soil of our Motherland. The first man entering space: the citizen of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: Yurij Aleksevich Gagarin". With this statement (here shown on the frontpage of the newspaper Izvestia), issued exactly 50 years ago on the 12th of April 1961, the first manned spaceflight was announced. It sent shockwaves around the world and it accelerated the spacerace which culminated, only 8 years later, with the other major historic space related achievement of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.
We should be grateful for the courage of the likes of Gagarin (who apparently was selected for his good looks, apart from being an excellent pilot of course). Astronomy would not be what it is today without this historic event of the first manned spaceflight. The accelerated technological development following it, quickly enabled space-based astronomy which fundamentally changed this science. It opened up many spectral windows for astronomical observations and led to a very long list of fundamental astronomical discoveries, ranging from the spectacular images from the nearby planets to the detection of the weak ripples in the most distant cosmic radiation field of the Universe when it was not even 400,000 years old.