Robert L. Peters

12 April 2011

A salut | Yuri Gagarin

Tyuratam, Kazakhstan

Fifty years ago today, on the 12th of April in 1961, the first manned spaceship left our planet from the Baikonur cosmodrome in the Soviet Union with a singular and heroic (if somewhat diminutive) man aboard—Yuri Gagarin, the world’s very first “rocket-man” or cosmonaut…

This was the beginning, the blazing of a trail which has now become a road to the cosmos. One after another, spaceships are leaving earth for the wide expanses of the universe. Today, space pilots live and work for months aboard space stations, they fly to the moon; and Soviet and American spacemen have accomplished a joint experimental flight.

In the near future, perhaps, earthmen will go still further, journeying to other planets and universes. But alongside the names of these future explorers there will always rand the name of the first Soviet cosmonaut, for Yuri Gagarin’s 108-minute flight in space represented not only a triumph of science and engineering, but also a bursting of the “bounds of possibility,” the breaking of a psychological barrier. It was literally a flight into the unknown.

Being a pilot, he had flown many demanding assignments, including flights at night and in blizzard conditions, and at home they would wait anxiously for his familiar step. Even so, he was never very far from the earth. But now… he had gone out into the unknown where no man had ever been before. Valentina, his wife, well understood all that this entailed but had agreed. And this, too, was an act of heroism for the mother of two small children.

From Zvyozdny Gorodok (Star Town), Yuri had flown to the cosmodrome. It was quiet at his home. The children were asleep. The sky, washed by recent rain, was studded with stars. The night seemed to be waiting for something. The wet pines stood motionless, and the houses merged together in the stillness and bluish darkness. In only one of them shone a yellow rectangle of light…

“Am I happy to be setting off on a cosmic flight?” said Yuri Gagarin in an interview before the start. “Of course. In all ages and epochs people have experienced the greatest happiness in embarking upon new voyages of discovery… I want to dedicate this first cosmic flight to the people of communism—the society which the Soviet people are now already entering upon… I say ‘until we meet again’ to you, dear friends, as we always say to each other when setting off on a long journey. How I should like to embrace you all—my friends and those with whom I am not acquainted, strangers and the people nearest and dearest to me!”

(From a booklet published by Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, Moscow, 1977—which some might call “propaganda?”)  Care to ramp up the nostalgic context a little more? Have a listen to the Soviet National Anthem, here.

People of the world!
Let us safeguard and enhance this beauty—not destroy it!

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