Yuri Gagarin was the first man in outer space, when he orbited the earth in the first manned space flight exactly fifty years ago.
Gagarin was for a brief time the most famous man on earth and hailed as a hero by millions around the world.
However, the cosmonaut did not get to enjoy his celebrity – he died just seven years later in a mysterious plane crash that has generated a mountain of conspiracy theories.
Gagarin died on Mar. 27, 1968 when the MiG fighter plane that carried him and instructor Vladimir Seryogin crashed in the Vladimir region just outside Moscow.
Gagarin had become deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow.
Gagarin was only 34 years old.
Just last week, in advance of the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s monumental achievement, the Russian government said it had declassified documents related to his death.
The ministry of defense claimed that Gagarin died during a training exercise when the jet he was piloting had to make a sharp maneuver to avoid hitting a weather balloon.
Alexander Stepanov, the Kremlin’s top archives official told a news conference that a Soviet investigation commission from that era determined this was the most likely cause of the hero’s death.
The document, from November 1968, was classified as “absolutely secret” and was signed off by Communist Party chief, Leonid Brezhnev.
The conclusions of the commission are that the most likely cause of the catastrophe was a sharp maneuver to avoid a balloon probe, he said.
A less probable cause was avoiding entry into the upper limit of the first layer of cloud cover.”
The commission wrote that maneuvers by Gagarin or Seryogin led the jet into a supercritical flight regime and to its stalling in complex meteorological conditions.
Stepanov added that he now hopes his findings finally puts an end to all the rumors surrounding Gagarin’s untimely passing.
I hope they will dismiss very many speculations that are circulating in Russia in pseudo-history books, he said.
Other causes of death speculated over the years included theories that Gagarin suffered from oxygen deprivation or that perhaps he crashed into another airplane. More ominous theories involve a murderous sabotage, although this has never had much credence or evidence.
Other wild rumors were that Gagarin was drunk while piloting the aircraft; or that Brezhnev somehow staged the crash because he was jealous of Gagarin’s immense popularity.
Vitaly Davydov, the deputy chief of Roskosmos, The Russian space agency, emphasizes that Russia has nothing to hide about Gagarin’s death,
Today there aren't documents on Gagarin's flight left that we have consciously kept secret because it would be damaging if they were made public, he said.