Lift-off for new book on Gagarin

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RUSSIAN cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space when his Vostok-1 rocket blasted off exactly 50 years ago today - as detailed in a new children’s book by a Sheffield mum.

Vix Southgate, a former TV production worker now an author and illustrator, wanted to commemorate his bravery and help youngsters to learn about the history of space.

Yuri Gagarin - The First Spaceman, a 34-page fact book and graphic novel, is the end result, published in association with the British Council.

A limited edition will be available at exhibitions and events round the country to mark the golden anniversary.

Vix, aged 35, raised in the city and now living in Chesterfield, spent over a year researching Gagarin and has taken on the role of administrator of, which is helping to promote events around the country and the world.

Specialising in science-based stories for young children, it follows her books Do Spiders Have Ears? The Moon and The Boat Journey, a rhyming story exploring the mind of a child at bathtime.

Her new book tells how the Soviet spacecraft lifted off from the launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 07.07am British time, and after only 108 minutes landed safely south-west of the Russian city of Saratov, near the border with Kazakhstan.

The feat catapulted cosmonaut Gagarin. aged 27, into the history books. He became a worldwide celebrity. Vix, who has a young daughter, explained how Gagarin’s story is inspirational.

“He grew up as a farm boy and was poorly educated after the Germans took over his village. He saw the horrors of war. He went to live in Moscow to become better educated and he trained to become a foundryman at a steelworks.

“He went on to technical school and joined a flying school, later becoming a pilot in the Soviet military. He joined the space programme and became the first man in space.

“Gagarin was amazingly courageous. He didn’t know what the survival rate was. They sent dogs up before him. The capsule before him had a dog in it and a dummy cosmonaut to test the ejection system.

“People have to understand what it was back then, especially children. We see the Earth through Google Earth now - he saw that for himself. “Gagarin was first and showed it was possible.

“The book is intended as a fun, educational, biography of his life and space flight. It has been particularly written with children in mind. I have also developed teaching resources that encourage teachers and parents to look at the science behind ecological issues, as well as space and Gagarin’s historic achievement.”

n Yuri Gagarin – The First Spaceman, a teachers’ resource for Key Stages 1 and 2, is available with free PowerPoint downloads from