Gagarin died tragically when when his MIG jet crashed during a training flight on March 27, 1968. He was given a hero's funeral and his ashes were interred in the Kremlin Wall.
Tuesday's launch was seven days shy of the anniversaries of Gagarin's flight into orbit in 1961 from the same launch pad as well as the first flight of the U.S. space shuttle 20 years later. Speaking to reporters prior to the emotion-laden launch, Garan noted how much space flight has changed since Gagarin was launched during the space race between the two Cold War superpowers. "Fifty years ago, one nation launched one man, basically as a competition," he said. "Today, the three of us represent the many nations of the international partnership that makes up the International Space Station."