On April 12, 1961 Russia’s Iurii Gagarin became the first ever human being to enter outer space. The Cosmonaut instantly became a Soviet hero (he received an actual “Hero of the Soviet Union” medal) after his successful orbit of the earth in his Votosk 1 spacecraft.
Upon reentry to the earth’s atmosphere, Gagarin is said to have whistled the tune of the patriotic Russian song “The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows/Where her son flies is in the sky”. Rumors over the cosmonaut’s controversial statement “I don’t see any God up here” during orbit were later proven false by audio records of the spaceflight and are believed to have been actually spoken by Nikita Khruschev during a speech referring to Gagarin in the midst of the state’s anti-religion campaign.
Gagarin would later be killed during a routine training exercise in his MiG-15 fighter jet in March of 1968. Gagarin’s legacy and contribution to Soviet society are highlighted by the fact that his remains are now buried in the walls of the Kremlin and the renaming of the Cosmonaut Training Center outside of Moscow after Russia’s first Cosmonaut. It’s astounding to me how the memory of one man can portray so many different symbols in Russian history; the development of Russia as a world power, the spirit of the Russian citizen, and the beginning of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Picture Source: gagarinmk.jpg