WORLD / EUROPE
60 years of Russians in space
Cosmonautics Day marked with nostalgia and pride
Published: Apr 12, 2021 06:08 PM
A Russian woman holding a portrait of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin stands on Moscow's Manezhnaya Square prior to a flower laying ceremony at the grave of Yuri Gagarin by the Kremlin Wall on the 60th anniversary of his flight, on Monday. Photo: AFP

A Russian woman holding a portrait of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin stands on Moscow's Manezhnaya Square prior to a flower laying ceremony at the grave of Yuri Gagarin by the Kremlin Wall on the 60th anniversary of his flight, on Monday. Photo: AFP


Russians on Monday celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first manned flight to space carried out by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as the Soviet hero remains one of the most admired figures in the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was expected to travel to Engels, a city in the south of the country on the banks of the Volga River, to the site of the cosmonaut's landing where a memorial stands to honor the historic flight.

The anniversary of the spaceflight is a "day of national pride" for Russia, Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. 

On April 12, 1961, Gagarin's Vostok spacecraft took off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union, as the 27-year-old cosmonaut exclaimed his iconic catchphrase "Let's go!"

His flight lasted just 108 minutes, the time it took to complete one loop around the Earth, before returning to home soil. 

The legend of the man who rose from humble beginnings to become a Soviet hero lives on today and the day of Gagarin's flight is celebrated every year in Russia as Cosmonautics Day.

His now rusty Vostok capsule is on display at Moscow's Museum of Cosmonautics where an exhibition dedicated to Gagarin is set to open on Tuesday.  Visitors will be shown documents, photos and personal belongings of Gagarin, some dating back to his childhood and school years.

"This is probably the only surname that everyone knows, from 4-year-old children to people over 80," said Vyacheslav Klimentov, historian and the museum's deputy director of research. 

"I would say that Gagarin's feat, that saw a man go to space for the first time, bonds all Russians together," he added.

Gagarin's flight remains a source of national pride in Russia and a symbol of the Soviet Union's dominance in space during that era. Four years before Gagarin, the USSR had already become the first country to send into orbit a satellite called Sputnik.

Sixty years on, Russia continues to frequently send its cosmonauts to the International Space Station. On Friday, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, honoring the anniversary of Gagarin's flight, blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome with two Russians and a US astronaut on board. 

The anniversary also comes at a difficult time for Russia's space industry, which has suffered a number of setbacks recently, from corruption scandals to an aborted takeoff in 2018.
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