April 12, 1961 It would have been a lot easier to take Yuri Gagarin if he hadn't been so cussedly good-looking. But he was. On top of that, he was Russian. On top of that, he orbited the earth while the U.S. was still messing around with space monkeys. Certainly, Gagarin looked a lot more valiant posing with Khrushchev than Able and Baker (or, later, Ham the chimp) would have looked shaking President Kennedy's hand. It was one more smackdown for the U.S., but for the larger enterprise of space travel it was a big, big step.