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Nice guys go into outer space first. Yuri Gagarin was one of six almost identically well-qualified Soviet cosmonauts in 1960. The finalists had been chosen from among thousands of recruits notable for their physical prowess, intelligence, and courage. But that June, when the six were invited to climb into a prototype of a Vostok space capsule for a quick look inside, Gagarin distinguished himself: He took off his shoes first. Sergei Korolev, chief designer and the "father of the Soviet space program," was reportedly so amazed by this show of respect that his mind was made up: The young fighter pilot would become the first human in outer space. Gagarin orbited the earth once during a 108-minute flight on April 12, 1961.

Source: Moscow Times, April 12, 2001

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