The first astronaut was either the Soviet Yuri Gagarin or the Soviet dog Laika, depending on whether the definition is restricted based on species. Both are remembered for their accomplishments and contributions to space travel.
Laika, a name that literally means "barker" and was based on her breed, was launched into space on 3 November 1957 on board Sputnik 2, becoming the first animal to orbit the Earth. This took place only a month after the first satellite, Sputnik, was launched, on 4 October 1957. Sputnik 2 was the second spacecraft launched into Earth orbit.
The dog was selected from the pound, and at one time was a homeless dog wandering the streets of Moscow. She died only a few hours after launch, due to stress and overheating from a malfunctioning thermal control unit. As the technology to return a payload to Earth was not available at the time, it was planned to put the canine astronaut to sleep with poisoned food on the 10th day of flight.
The cabin of Sputnik 2 included a life-support system with an oxygen generator, a fan that was supposed to activate when the temperature exceeded 59° F (15° C), gelatinous food for a 10-day flight, and a bag to collect waste. When some of the thermal insulation tore loose after separation of the last stage, the temperature of the cabin increased to 104° F (40° C), and Laika died within 5 to 7 hours after great stress. The precise cause of the dog's death was not made public until decades later.
As satellite and space technology rapidly progressed, the Soviet Union once again decided to pioneer the way forward in space by launching the first human astronaut. Yuri Gagarin was launched into space on 12 April 1961, about three and a half years after the launch of Sputnik. Traveling on board Vostok 1, Gagarin orbited the Earth just once, which took 108 minutes.
Gagarin then ejected from the capsule, about 4.35 miles (7 km) above the ground, parachuting to Earth a few hundred miles (km) away from the launch site in Kazakhstan. Some villagers witnessed Vostok 1 hit the ground near where Gagarin landed with his parachute. Being the world's first astronaut, Gagarin instantly became an international celebrity.