The Humble Beginning Of Yuri Gagarin, The First Man In Space

It's little wonder that generations of children hold fond ambitions to become astronauts and follow in the footsteps of the legendary likes of Neil Armstrong. In 2005, Armstrong told "60 Minutes" (per CBS News) that there was no grand plan for him to be the first person ever to step on the moon's surface. "I was just chosen to command that flight," he said. "Circumstance put me in that particular role." Regardless, though, he became a legend.

Another of the biggest names in the history of space travel is cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Eight years before the moon landing, Gagarin became the first person ever to travel in space. As Britannica reports, the Soviet Union inundated him with honors for his achievement, such as the titles "Hero of the Soviet Union" and the "Pilot Cosmonaut of the Soviet Union." Interestingly, this national (and indeed global) hero could not have risen from more humble beginnings.

Per Britannica, Gagarin was born close to Gzhatsk, Russia, in March 1934. Both of his parents worked on a kolkhoz, a Soviet Union collective farm on state land that was worked by multiple peasant families. His father was a carpenter, and perhaps it was this that helped encourage him to pursue a trade of his own. Before he could do so, however, his family would be directly impacted by Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion and occupation of the Soviet Union during World War II.

From living in a makeshift hut to worldwide icon

According to BBC News, nearby Klushino was attacked by German forces in November 1941, when Gagarin had barely started school. Like a lot of Klushino's population, the family's home was occupied, and they were allowed only to continue to farm their land. The occupation lasted almost two years, during which Gagarin and his family lived in a makeshift hut of mud.

In 1946, the family was finally able to leave the village, settling in Gzhatsk (now Gagarin). Gagarin was 13 years old at the point, but the young man soon made up for lost time. He learned the molding trade at school before studying to be a pilot in Saratov. Per Britannica, he then studied to become a cadet in the Soviet Air Force, which set him on a path to his defining achievement: orbiting the planet in a Vostok 1 spacecraft on April 12, 1961.

He would tragically die at the age of just 34 in a rather mysterious aircraft crash, per Space. Though his space flight took only one hour and 29 minutes, Gagarin's short life was an incredible tale of triumph over adversity as he became a key figure of the space race.