Part 1: Only One Can Be the First | Part 2: Russian Roulette in Baikonur | Part 3: Baptism of Fire and Defenestration | Part 4: Valya, Vodka and Voskhod | Part 5: Dreams and Tragedies

Author & Director:
Martin Huebner

Commissioning Editor:
Anaïs Roth

5 x 25' | 125'

Daniel Ast | Juergen Ast

astfilm productions | MDR // ARD

"Yuri, you don't have to worry. We'll give you everything you need: food, oxygen and a gun..." With these words, the Soviet chief designer Korolyov tries to reassure the young Yuri Gagarin shortly before his historic cosmic flight. It is April 12, 1961, a fateful day for the 27-year-old farmer's son. It is the first time in history that a manned spaceship is launched into space. An age-old dream of mankind could come true. But no one knows yet how it will turn out. Medical experts fear that humans could lose their minds in a state of weightlessness and in view of the infinity of the universe. The heart could stop beating. In any case, it is a suicide mission that could make Gagarin world-famous and immortal - or cost him his life.

Gagarin's chances of survival are - from a purely statistical point of view - 47 percent. Not a particularly good figure. But the young cosmonaut knows nothing about this. Neither does the public. The public learns of the Soviets' new feat only shortly after the launch. It is a brilliant success. Radio Moscow broadcasts the name of Soviet citizen Yuri Gagarin to the whole world. What is going on behind the scenes, what difficulties Gagarin and the constructors are struggling with, remains hidden. The most important message is: the first man in space is a Soviet citizen! After the flight of the first Soviet satellite a few years earlier, this is the next important milestone in the cosmic competition with the USA.

Yuri Gagarin therefore not only rises to become the first pop star within the Soviet Union, "Cosmonaut N°1" becomes a world star. His historic flight lasted 108 minutes, his triumphal procession around the earth lasted for months and years. Gagarin proved to be a PR hit. The Soviet media presented him as a flawless hero, a communist without reproach. Until the end, until his fatal plane crash in 1968, nothing changes in this Gagarin image.

"Cosmonaut N°1" takes a look behind the scenes of the hero production. The focus is on the "real Gagarin," before and after his historic flight. Interviews with companions provide astonishing insights into the life of "Cosmonaut N°1," his doubts and fears, his escapades and finally his mysterious death, which has still not been fully clarified and still offers room for wild speculation and rumors of all kinds. A story full of superlatives and heroes, but also full of mishaps and mistakes. With the reconstruction of Gagarin's cosmic biography, the entire Storm and Stress phase of "red space flight" also appears in a new light. The struggle for supremacy in the Space Race with the USA and the struggle for the cosmos, "in heaven and on earth."

"Cosmonaut N°1" - A multi-faceted retrospective in five chapters, back to the most exciting years of Soviet space travel in the middle of the Cold War. The documentary can rely on exclusive archive material and outstanding protagonists. On interviews with cosmonauts, constructors, scientists, politicians, journalists, relatives, which were produced in the last 20 years. A unique, impressive spectrum of top-class contemporary witnesses, all of them directly involved, who give information from their own experience and suffering about a time full of work, tension and also deprivation, a time that for most of them was still the most beautiful time of their entire lives. What drove and inspired people at that time? Was it the money, the bonuses, the medals and small privileges, or the communist worldview? A story about people and machines that has not been told before. A story that reaches into the present.