Gagarin’s secret parachute jump
Gagarin was, by all accounts, a charming and talented man. He was a very good pilot. Not perhaps as good as Gherman Titov, who would be the second cosmonaut to go into space. (Reportedly, Soviet Premier Krushchev wanted Gagarin up first—because Gagarin came from “good peasant stock.”)
In any case, on April 12, 1961, Gagarin orbited the earth and returned safely home. But how he returned was a Soviet secret. Gagarin did not return with his spacecraft—which the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) required for it to be considered an official spaceflight.
Gagarin, instead, took a long parachute jump to the ground. He reached the ground about ten minutes before his spacecraft.
Well, today nobody remembers or cares what the FAI would have said, had they known the truth. We’re all impressed that a brave man allowed himself to be strapped onto a rocket, and sent around the world.
Gagarin died in a plane crash on March 27, 1968—my eleventh birthday.