The Squirrel, the Astronaut & his Daughters

April 12, 2011

Yuri Gagarin, first human to orbit Earth, April 12, 1961

 Once Upon a Time…

 It was only once dawn broke on the icy steppe that the small, shivering crowd could clearly make out the grinning face of Yuri Gagarin. Fifty years, almost to the day, after the Soviet cosmonaut became the first human being to travel into space, an image from the day of the launch had been painted onto the hulking Soyuz rocket, which was being tugged across the plain by an ageing diesel train. As the rocket was winched into its launch position, the face swivelled upright. Alongside it was the word “Poyekali”, or “Let’s go”, Gagarin’s final statement before he was launched into history. [Read more]

Rocky – the flying squirrel

“Rockets are dangerous things, so those who fly them need all the luck they can get,”

To mark the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space, his elder daughter Elena gave her first ever interview for Western media about her father to Andrea Rose of the British Council. This is the complete transcriptAndrea Rose: Do you have any memories of April 12, 1961, the day your father was the first man to fly into space?

 Elena Gagarin: No, I was too young, I was only two years old, and don’t have any recollections of the day itself.

 AR: So when was the first time that you knew what your father had achieved?

 EG: Well, it was just a part of my life and growing up. He was always the First Cosmonaut of the World for me, and his whole life was connected with space and space exploration. There wasn’t a before and after for me.

 AR: Did he talk to you as you grew up about taking that first flight?

 EG: No. He talked about it so often, and with so many people, that it seemed to me he was rather tired of talking about it. What he talked about to me was his childhood – about what it was like to grow up in Smolensk, and about the war. His family lived under German occupation for three years, and he talked to us a great deal about that.

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin turned in to an international icon when he became the first man to travel in to space 50 years ago

June 1, 1960 shows Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin posing with his wife Valentina and daughter Yelena on the bank of the Klyazma River in central Russian Vladimir region Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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