60 years on, Russia celebrates space first
Russia on Monday celebrated the 60th anniversary of the legendary flight that made Yuri Gagarin the first man in space.
Russia’s space industry has struggled in recent years and been hit by a series of mishaps, but the sending of the first human into space on April 12, 1961 remains a crowning achievement of the Soviet space programme.
The day of Gagarin’s flight is celebrated every year in Russia as Cosmonautics Day, and this year authorities are pulling out all the stops to mark the 60th anniversary, with round-the-clock television coverage, murals on high-rises and laser projections of Gagarin’s portrait.
For Moscow commuters, the morning started with a broadcast on the Metro of the original report by state news agency TASS about the launch, followed by Gagarin’s legendary words — “Poekhali!” (Let’s go) — as his Vostok spacecraft lifted off.
In a message from the International Space Station, the four Russians on board saluted “all earthlings” and hailed Gagarin’s accomplishment.
Girl in a potato field
“Gagarin’s legendary 108-minute flight became an example of heroism for his successors, including us,” said cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky.
Vostok took off carrying the 27-year-old son of a carpenter and a dairy farmer from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union.
The flight lasted just 108 minutes, the time it took to complete one loop around the Earth.
Gagarin landed in a potato field in front of a five-year-old girl, Rita Nurskanova, and her grandmother.
In an interview with newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets for the anniversary, Nurskanova said that after seeing a flash of light and a spacesuit, her grandmother started to pray and wanted to run.
Gagarin calmed them down, saying he was human and “came from the sky,” she said. Then her grandmother helped him unfasten his helmet.
Gagarin’s now-rusty Vostok capsule is on display at Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics where a new exhibition dedicated to his achievement is set to open on Tuesday.