Russia on Monday, celebrated the 60th anniversary of the legendary flight that made Yuri Gagarin the first man in space, a major source of national pride for millions of his countrymen.
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.
President Vladimir Putin was to travel on Monday, to the southern city of Engels on the banks of the Volga River, to the site of the cosmonaut’s landing where a memorial stands to honour the historic flight.
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 museum exhibitions, round-the-clock television coverage and events across the country.
For Moscow commuters, Monday 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 Russian cosmonauts on board saluted “all earthlings” and hailed their compatriot’s accomplishment.
“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 Gagarin from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union.
The flight lasted 108 minutes, the time it took to complete one loop around the Earth, before returning to home soil.
The now-rusty Vostok capsule is on display at Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics where a new exhibition dedicated to Gagarin is set to open on Tuesday. #s63