60 Years Ago Today, One Of The Most Surreal Encounters In Spaceflight History Took Place

Yuri Gagarin's flight, as reported in Russia. Oleg Golovnev/shutterstock.com

60 years ago today, a 5-year-old girl and her grandmother were in their field near the city of Engels in Western Russia, when they were met with an extremely strange sight.

Above them, they saw a large object crash to the Earth a few miles away. A few minutes later, a figure in a silver costume slowly descended in a parachute, and asked the two if he could use their telephone.

Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into outer space, on 12 April 1961. Inside his capsule, Vostok 1, he completed one full orbit of Earth, before returning to the planet 108 minutes after liftoff. The landing zones in early spaceflights weren't as precise as they were now (see footage of Space X flights where the rocket lands right next to the pad almost every time, or on the pad before exploding), and Gagarin was somewhat off course.

As with other, later cosmonauts, Gagarin was prepared for such an eventuality. In fact, Cosmonauts were given pistols to take with them into space, in case they landed in the wilderness and were forced to fight off bears or wolves. This wasn't just a hypothetical scenario, the crew of the Vokshod 2 landed in a remote wolf-infested Siberian forest. Gagarin, fortunately, landed in farmland, and would merely have to look for his own transport back to Moscow.

“Having stepped onto firm ground, I saw a woman and a girl who were standing near a spotted calf and who were watching me with bewilderment," he wrote of his landing in his log book. "When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear."

From their perspective, it was an odd sight, and at first neither were entirely sure he was from Earth.

"I looked around and saw something orange and beautiful. I didn't know what it was. It was coming towards us," Rita Nurskanova told the BBC. "Granny was frightened. She grabbed my hand. And we wanted to run back to the house. He said 'ladies, stop! I'm one of our guys!'"

"I said 'Granny, stop! He's speaking Russian. He's probably human.'"

According to Nurskanova, it was here that Gagarin - known for having a good sense of humor - had a little fun with the two. 

Not helping explain the situation, Gagarin told the girl and her grandmother that he had arrived on a ship, to which the grandmother replied "there's no sea near here". To this, he answered, in what might be one of the coolest and needlessly ambiguous moves in history "I came from the sky".

According to Gagarin, he explained to the two the full situation, and that he needed their phone.

"I told them, don't be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!"

Shortly afterward, Gagarin returned to Moscow a hero, the first human to orbit the Earth.

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