The Russian rocket man

This months marks the anniversary of the first man in space. O.K, technically I’m a bit late with this as the official date was five days ago, but I couldn’t let the occasion pass with out a comment.

On April 12th, 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human being to escape the confines of Earths gravity. I wasn’t born when this event took place, however when the American trio of Aldren, Armstrong and Collins journeyed to the Moon in 1969, I was four and a half and I watched the landing and subsequent lunar exploration with my father via a flickery black and white T.V. set. It was these three intrepids that, for many years, encapsulated the ‘spirit of adventure’ for me.

I have no idea when I became aware of Gagarin’s trail blazing endeavour; it could have been many years later but learning of this mans heroism quickly supplanted the achievements of the Apollo eleven crew.

The space race of the sixties was just that, a quest by two competing nations to conquer the inhospitable territory of near space; the hottest of games during the time of the cold war. Where the U.S. undoubtedly invested billions of dollars into funding their team’s chances to claim this prize, I’d like to think that the Soviet efforts were financed by a quick whip round in the Kremlin. Gagarin himself was, as Soviet officials report, a peasant. He lived with his family in a mud hut after the Nazi’s had turfed them out of their home during the  occupation of Russia in WWII. With this humble and challenging beginning it’s no wonder that The Soviet people took Gagarin to their hearts.

Over the years there have been many tributes given to commemorate and celebrate both Gagarin and his achievement. From the renaming of the town of Gzhatsk to Gagarin to the commissioning of monuments, the most striking of which has to be this titanium column erected on Lenin Avenue in Moscow in 1980. It stands a towering 130 feet tall, almost tall enough to reach the stars, and was designed by sculptor Pavel Bondarenko and architect Yakov Belopolskiy. To me, this tribute epitomises the spirit of Yuri Gagarins achievements and the era in which they were accomplished.

Yuri Gagarin (9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968) First man in space.

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