Oh, heck. I almost missed this. April 12th is the anniversary of the first human space flight; Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space on this date in 1961. (No, Americans, Shepard was not the first.)
Although I forgot this year, I usually mark this on my calendar as “Space Day.” Other folks call it “Yuri’s Night”.
Imagine, if you will, letting a crew lock you into a tiny cell mounted atop a modified ballistic missile. Missiles known to fail often enough that — once the ground crew has you locked in — they run away. Far away. Assuming you survive the launch attempt, a successful mission means you shoot into an environment where you can alternately cook and freeze, or die from an air leak.
When that’s done, you’ll get dumped out of orbit, and be subjected to 8 g’s of force — even more than the launch — as your capsule spins in the air. Then you jump out, and parachute to the ground.
If the retro-burn doesn’t work, you might re-enter atmosphere in 10 days (in actuality, the orbit wouldn’t have decayed for 20 days, killing Yuri).
You volunteer for this. You competed with other volunteers.
I’m amazed they could fit Gagarin’s balls into the Vostok capsule.