Urban spaceman: Gagarin is embraced by daughters Lena, left, and Galya. Source: RIA Novosti
Fifty years ago on April 12, with a rousing cry of “ Poekhali!” ( “Let’s Go!”), cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin raced skywards to become the first human in space.
Launching in Vostok 1 from Kazakhstan at 9.06am that sunny day in 1961, the 27-year-old carpenter’s son circled the Earth once on a 108-minute space flight, before parachuting safely to
Driven by the Soviet Union’s quest to assert technical superiority over the United States, Gagarin’s flight became one of the 20th century’s most significant achievements. This short but epic foray into the heavens inspired millions of people around the globe
Blast-off: the Soyuz rocket is the programme’s workhorse. Source: AFP/East News
“This was the finest competition the human race ever staged: who could build the best spacecraft, the
For three decades the sides pitched their finest engineering minds against each other. The US Moon landing in July 1969 may have eclipsed all other achievements, but it was still the Soviets who generally led the race.
Space exploration became increasingly co-operative after the end of the Cold War, especially with the assembly of the 18-country International Space Station (ISS). More than 500 men and women from 38 countries have now been in orbit. But on April 12, Russians everywhere will
Now, as in the past, the resolve to drive his legacy further comes from the top.
“Space will always remain a priority of ours. This is not just somebody’s interpretation, it’s our official state position,” President Dmitry Medvedev told members of the ISS crew in a radio link-up on April 12 last year, Cosmonautics Day.
Russia’s $3bn (£1.8bn) annual space budget cannot compete with Nasa’s almost $19bn (£11.6bn). But more funding has been allocated to space in recent years as oil and gas revenues surged. Russia is a leader in the commercial satellite launch market. And while the Americans had their manned Moon and Mars mission hopes trimmed by the Obama administration, Russia keeps those hopes alive, aiming to establish a Moon base by 2030 and stage a Mars mission shortly after, according to Anatoly Perminov, chief of the Roskosmos space agency.
It’s all a far cry from the heady days of the Vostok 1 mission
However, the competitive
After 30 years of service and 135 launches, Nasa’s shuttle fleet made its final run to the ISS last month. When the shuttles are fully retired later this year, the station will be dependent on smaller Russian craft to ferry crews and supplies until a new US space taxi is produced. Shifting the transport burden boosts the role, prestige
As Russia forges ahead with international work, the vision for space exploration is now coming into focus. “The future lies in co-operation,”
Half a century after he beheld the spectacle of our precious and fragile world from above, Yuri Gagarin would surely have applauded such a lofty goal.
“Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is,” he said after touching down. “People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it.”
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