60th Anniversary of first manned space flight

Today is the 60th Anniversary of the flight of Yuri Gagarin, and is celebrated in Russia as День Космона́втики or Cosmonautics Day. Because it was so convolved with the Cold War and early space race, the date was mostly ignored in the western world out of embarrassment over the fact the Soviets beat the US into space. It wasn’t until the 40th Anniversary, when “Yuri’s Night” became popular, and culminating with the 50th Anniversary, when the UN designated the 12th of April as “International Day of Human Space Flight” and NASA began to more formally commemorate the event, that the event has become more properly commemorated. Most of the reporting I’ve looked at this morning emphasize the Cold War aspects rather than the amazing accomplishment itself (a CNN story I looked at was rather biased and historically inaccurate). This article on phys.org has some background for those who are interested in more.

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was like many of the early cosmonauts and astronauts far more than the comic-book heroes they were often made out to be. One of the lesser known aspects of his personality and family is that despite the officially atheistic communist government and society, like many Russians he was underneath a Christian. His family kept icons, and he ensured his daughter Yelena was baptized before his first (and, sadly, only) flight. Many in the US government and media utterly fail to recognize the return of Christianity in Russia, writing it off as some kind of facade. Yet the facade was in fact communism – Christianity endured and persevered under the surface and quickly returned once the Soviet Union fell. Surveys this year show that 66% of Russians consider themselves to be Orthodox Christians, and fully 17% are observing Lent (Orthodox Easter, or Pascha, is later than Western Easter this year, not being celebrated until May 2nd).

But today we celebrate Gagarin’s first flight, and the monumental achievement of Sergey Pavlovich Korolev and his rocket designs that are still in use today. Here is a photo I shot of the statue of Gagarin just outside his office in the Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City …

Центр подготовки космонавтов имени Ю. А. Гагарина (Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center)

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