Out of the melee of mistrust, hope, adventure, technology and arms race that made up the Cold War, Yuri Gagarin shot to international superstardom as the first man in space, cementing the Soviet Union’s cosmonauts’ prowess in that stage of the space race. On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin made the first human flight in space. Tuesday, April 12, 2011 will be the 50th anniversary of this event, which will be celebrated throughout the British Isles.
In Devon there’s a screening of First Orbit on the BBC’s Big Screen in Plymouth, and in Teignmouth, TIDE Cultural Diversity Project at TAAG is showing the Ria Novosti (Official Russian News and Photo Agency) Gagarin photo exhibition as part of its First Wave Exhibition. The show opens on April 24 at TAAG Old Swansons Garage gallery.
Once Yuri had touched down, he jet-setted on for a world tour, coming to the UK in July, as guest of the British Foundry Workers’ Union. But he’d already established himself as an international star.
“By July he had become the first international superstar,” Ralph Gibson vice-chair of the Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies told the Independent. “He wasn’t a film star or a politician. You see that thousands of people greeted him quite spontaneously. As far as I am aware his British visit was his first to a Western country. At the height of the Cold War it was extraordinary for him to be greeted in the way he was.”
There were no soundbites from Yuri’s trip in Vlostok 1. When he returned, he recalled the adventure: “The feeling of weightlessness was somewhat unfamiliar compared with Earth conditions. Here, you feel as if you were hanging in a horizontal position in straps. You feel as if you are suspended.”
As a handsome, dashing adventurer, it was no surprise that Yuri became an international hit before he returned to the Soviet Union to continue with his efforts in the space race, rising to Colonel of the Soviet Air Force. He died in crash after a routine training flight.
• The exhibition in Teignmouth runs from April 24 to May 6 and is free to enter. Along with the Yuri Gagarin – First Man in Space exhibition with images from RIA Novosti Bureau, there are also works from Helen Cooper; Brief Encounters, about the seamen who visit Teignmouth, the Face to Face photo competition, and artefacts, images, paintings and crafts from around the world. For more details visit the TIDE site.